Saturday, 26 March 2016

MORE GREAT READS FOR MARCH, 2016

Before it Breaks, by Dave Warner

            Why is it that the main protagonists of most crime novels are divorced, burnt-out, unloved and unlovable – but unerringly fabulous at their jobs?  Their personal lives are always rubbish, but they always find out Whodunnit, and why.  ‘Before it Breaks’ is no different except for its setting, for all the action takes place in Broome, Western Australia, and as much as kiwis and Aussies like to tout their differences, there is much about everyday life that is indistinguishable between our two countries, as this good story reveals:  readers from both countries this end of the world will recognise places, characters – and speech patterns that are comfortingly familiar on either side of the Tasman:  for that reason alone this story, despite its tried and true formula, makes a very good foray into the crime genre.
            Detective Inspector Daniel Clement, once a star of the Perth Police Department, has transferred himself to Broome, a tourist town far to the north of the State.  His talents are wasted there as local crime is confined to pub brawls and petty thieving, but his ex-wife Marilyn and only child, Phoebe, are living there;  he wants to be near to his daughter, even if it means facing the Gorgon that is his mother-in-law whenever he makes contact.  He knows that if he stays in Perth his daughter will grow away from him very quickly.  Broome and its obvious disadvantages will have to be his home for the next while, whether he likes it or not.
            Until two tourists report gunshots in the vicinity of Jasper’s Creek, home of crocodiles and other nasties (none of those here in Kiwiland!).  An investigation reveals a body partly submerged in the water – untouched by the Croc, but very dead just the same from a hideous blow to the head.  The corpse is revealed to be Dieter Schaffer, a semi-reclusive ex-policeman from Germany and from his current lifestyle a dope grower, gambler and general layabout.  Initially the reason for the crime is thought to be the marijuana he supplied – a deal made with someone that went sour – until another body is discovered, this time a Maori member of a bikie gang resident in the area:  the waters are starting to get muddy, and as Clement delves deeper into the mystery he discovers (as usual) that things are NEVER as they seem.
            Enquiries with the German Police reveal that the first victim, Dieter Schaffer, was part of an undercover operation in Hamburg which resulted in the murder and dismemberment of a fine officer:  Clement knows there is a connection – but what?
            Add to that the imminent threat of a huge cyclone ready to bear down on Broome and outlying areas and Mr Warner should have created more fear and dread than a body should rightly stand – BUT!
            The action and pace are very uneven.  The plot is almost too busy and there are flashbacks that distract when they should do the opposite.  When the murderer and his motives are finally revealed, instead of thinking ‘No way – it couldn’t have been!’ this reader was thinking ‘So much for the cyclone.  It didn’t blow ME away.’  Which is a shame.  I don’t know why Mr Warner ran out of steam in the last couple of chapters, but for all that ‘Before it Breaks’ is still a True Blue read.  Too right, mate!  THREE STARS

The Year of the Runaways, by Sunjeev Sahota

Shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, Sanjeev Sahota’s superb story of a year in the life of three of Britain’s illegal immigrants is hugely pertinent to the current plight of Eastern refugees in Europe, and deftly illustrates an underbelly of desperation and criminality of which few ordinary citizens are aware:  who would know of the sacrifices made to send the bus passenger sitting in front of them to England, in the hope that he might earn fabled amounts of money to send back home, thus keeping his family from begging on the Indian streets?
            Avtar is the eldest son in the family of a shawl seller in Mumbai.  Business is almost non-existent, and they are all dependent on his income as a bus conductor – which is terminated in terrible circumstances:  the only solution to keep his family from starving is to try to get to England, still regarded as the Land of Milk and Money, on a highly expensive student visa, made possible through sympathetic solicitors – who naturally are not at all accommodating when it comes to their fee.  An added complication is his love affair with Lakhpreet, the daughter of former neighbours who have also fallen on hard times:  their son Randeep will also be sent to England to earn fabulous money to keep his family in their accustomed prosperous style.  Randeep has entered into a marriage in name only with Narinder, a pious English-born Sikh girl who wishes to do good in her life according to her religious convictions.  They will not share an address, only coming together when visits are made by immigration inspectors.   
Avtar is reluctantly persuaded to keep an eye on the inexperienced, other-worldly Randeep, which he promises to do – but he still can’t raise enough money.
            Until he is forced to go to the criminal moneylenders, even after selling one of his kidneys and STILL falling short of the required amount:  his pain and desperation will all go away, he thinks, when he starts earning all those wonderful English pounds.  And having to look out for that baby Randeep won’t be so onerous – will it?
            True to form, England’s streets of gold are anything but;  it takes months to find construction work, where they are exploited mercilessly and eventually forced to work at several jobs so that they can send money home and still keep themselves from starving.  Their fragile dream has turned into a nightmare.  And to prove the caste system is still alive and flourishing, Tochi, a surly workmate of Avtar and Randeep is already living a nightmare:  his entire family were killed in political riots in India and he was set on fire, surviving by some miracle – so that he would never forget he is Chamaar:  Untouchable.  He too travels illegally to England, hoping that the caste system will be forgotten, only to discover that humiliation and shame will follow him wherever he goes.
            Mr Sahota’s characters draw us inexorably into their hardscrabble lives and we find that adversity does not breed companionship and loyalty as we would like to think:  desperation breeds betrayal on a large scale and revenge must be exacted. 

            This rich, beautifully written story will not leave the reader’s mind easily;  Avtar, Randeep, Tochi and Narinder are there to stay – unforgettable.  SIX STARS!!    

Thursday, 10 March 2016

GREAT READS FOR MARCH, 2016

Grey, by E. L. James

            Oh dear.  Not content with reaching the end of her ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy, those torrid, florid and horrid tales of Hot Sex and True Lurv between  impossibly handsome control-freak megabillionaire Christian Grey and tongue-tied, accident-prone and furious blusher Anastasia Steele, E. L. James has apparently been coaxed by various adoring fans to tell the same story ALL OVER AGAIN!! - from Christian’s perspective.
            Was this really necessary?  And will Christian’s story and the tragic underlying reasons for his sadism be successful at continuing the adoring interest of millions of fans world-wide, ever ready to spend big bucks to continue the ‘Fifty Shades’ phenomenon started in 2012.  (See review below)
            I have to say that I am just as swept up in the furore as everyone else around the world – it’s that ‘What Happens Next?’ and ‘Whatever will She Come up With Now?’ curiosity that impels readers far and wide to explore Christian’s heart-rending origins – and to try to understand why he would find Wimpy Anastasia so very irresistible.  Right from the time of their first meeting when she fumbles and bumbles her way through an interview for her student magazine, he finds her naiveté and lack of experience (not to mention all that beetroot blushing) charming enough to think that she would make a very satisfactory Submissive – for Christian is an adept at Dominating and Subjugating.  All his women (and there are so many!) are required to be totally obedient, or they’ll get a Whuppin’,  and a whuppin’ from Beyond Handsome Christian is not a pleasant sexual encounter, unless one is a masochist.  He, though, has a great time.  Oh, that gorgeous captain of industry (‘it’s just a pretty face, baby’) has many issues, and let us not forget that he cannot stand to be touched!
            As his version of events unfolds, Christian shows many different sides to his character:  he airlifts at huge expense plane loads of food and supplies to starving Darfur;  he donates zillions of dollars to more worthy charities than one can shake a stick at (what does that mean?  My gran used to say that all the time), and donates just as much to universities.  He is a Prince among Men!  But his secrets are many:  only his adoptive family know some of the true story of his abusive childhood – and here, surprisingly, Ms James writes very movingly of Christian’s horrendous early memories;  in fact his nightmare-causing flashbacks, while extremely disturbing to read are evidence that Ms James can tell Christian’s story much better than dippy old Ana’s.
            BUT!!!  Christian finds that Ana has steel in her spine as well as her name when he displays his true needs and wants.  After leading virginal (!) Ana and the reader through some jolly and energetic Vanilla sex he decides it’s time to paddle her luscious bottom – oh, he has a glorious time but is staggered to hear that SHE didn’t!  And because she is no longer a virgin and has put away childish things, (including polite language) she tells him that he is ‘one f*cked-up son of a bitch’.  And leaves him to his nightmares.  What an exit!  Even Taylor, Christian’s general Factotum, is impressed as he reverently drives her to her humble home.
            Once again, we millions of seething fans await Book Two According to Christian:  we know that he and twerpy Ana will only be apart for five days, but how quickly can Ms James write the next episode? 
Flashy, trashy, and completely addictive:  for the first time, Christian’s in lurv.  Bring it on!      

50 Shades of Grey, by E. L. James

            Your library is ever mindful of the needs of its borrowers.  To that end it has faithfully supplied copies of E. L. James’s trilogy for those who wish to read it, and its popularity is such that some people could die on the waiting list.  Perish the thought, not those on the waiting-list, I say!
When this tale begins, Anastasia Steele is having a bad hair day and doesn’t have a suitable thing to wear for the interview she has been persuaded to do with MegaZillionaire Christian Grey for the student magazine.  Her room-mate, magazine editor Kate, the original interviewer, has the ‘flu.  As if that weren’t tarsome enough, the poor wee thing trips (because she’s accident prone) through the door to the Great Man’s MegaOffice.  As he rescues her from the floor and envelops her in his hot, gray gaze, all the usual things happen:  her heart falters;  she can’t meet his eyes (ah, those eyes, like a threatening sea on a windswept day!) she blushes furiously (she does this A LOT);  she asks her set questions in a monotone – ‘Are you Gay?’ – (all the while agog at his beauty, which frequently invokes bursts of great silent introspection: ‘ Holy Crap’, followed by ‘Holy Shit,’ then finally, ‘Holy F@@##!’).  Yep, she’s a deep thinker, alright.
For his part, MegaZillionaire Christian is undeniably impressed (why?  Anastasia is now redder than the sunset.  She blushes for Africa.) and attracted to the winsome, helpless, clueless interviewer and before one can say WATCH OUT ANA, PERVERT ALERT! he has her in his power.  And he doesn’t even have a moustache to twirl.  Yes, he’s a 21st century cad, a dastard, no doubt about it – BUT! – after their first tumultuous coupling, where he is horrified to find that naïve Ana is that worst kind of innocent, a VIRGIN, she finds him hours later semi-nekkid in his cavernous living room, playing a mournful Bach arrangement on his grand piano sadly but superbly, (of course he is a wonderful musician, because he is excellent in all things) - this proves to readers (and there are so many of us!) that the dastard has a tragic side, a mysterious past which he refuses to reveal, and an aversion to being touched.
Naturally this presents some problems for Ana, who has never had a relationship before (WHAAAAT?!!  In her twenties and never been kissed?  Who is she, Jane Austen?).  She longs to touch him, to trail her fingers through his gorgeous, tousled chest hair, but he refuses.  She is extremely worried that she is ‘falling for a man who’s beyond beautiful, richer than Croesus, and has a Red Room of Pain waiting for me.’  Yep,  I’d be worried, too, but Ana places great faith in two friends:  her subconscious, ever her reliable moral compass, and her Inner Goddess, which is just a euphemism for Ho:  her Inner Goddess wins every time.  That girl is doomed.
And so is the reader (and there are SO many of us!), doomed to absorb the riveting fact that Christian’s eyes blaze when he whups Ana’s ass;  they’re haunted when he plays Bach superbly semi-nekkid, and hooded when he wishes to disguise his true feelings.  He steeples his fingers a lot, too.
Oh, this is a corny, horny, porny story:  it’s so trashy that it should be in a plain brown wrapper – but what power there is in word-of-mouth advertising!  E.L. James will never have to write another rude word;  she can just sit on the millions made from this trilogy like a chook on her eggs, if she wants to.  In the meantime, fans of Anastasia and Christian (and there are so MANY of us!) will press on with books two and three, because despite all the huffing, puffing, painful sex, Ana’s perpetual blushes and Christian’s steely gaze or wicked grins, we all have to know WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. 
When all is said and done, I must confess that I would rather go to bed with a good book than a fruitloop in a suit, (no matter how handsome!) but there’s no accounting for taste.  And there’s nowt so queer as folk as we all succumb to the lure of a worldwide best-seller, purely because everyone is saying:  ‘Have you read it yet?’
Read this torrid, tortured tale (if you haven’t already).  I think this is a Gross Read for Great Readers, but you be the judge.