Monday, 18 May 2020

3 x Alexander Söderberg

Another fantastic book from my bookshelves. The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Söderberg was published already in 2012 (in Swedish, 2013 in English). While reading, I realised it is the first part of a trilogy. I remember it got excellent reviews when it was first published, although I did not realise it was such a long time ago. This is one of the best thrillers I have read. Quite different from anything else in this genre. Once finishing the first book I downloaded the following two e-books from the library; The Other Son and The Good Wolf. I read them both in two days. Simply could not put them down.
"When Sophie Brinkmann meets Hector Guzman, she knows everything that she needs to: he’s handsome, he’s charming and he makes her happy. But what she doesn’t know is that Hector has some nasty friends, some even nastier enemies, and an unscrupulous police operation relentlessly following his every move. With her house under surveillance by the law and her life under threat from drug traffickers, gangsters and hitmen, Sophie must decide who she can trust – and whose side she really wants to be on."
It might be difficult to understand how an ordinary nurse like Sophie falls in love with a criminal type like Hector Guzman. I think this is the reason why Söderberg's novels have a certain appeal. The characters are well-drawn. They are not categorised into bad people being bad, and good people being good. Both sides have good and bad streaks. Nothing is black and white in this account of what is happening when an innocent nurse, by chance, is entering into the world of international crime.

One can have a doubt about how someone like Sophie can handle all the criminal elements she meets. It is a violent story. Once you have seen a brutal murder would you not call the police? Once you realise that your boyfriend is the leader of an international criminal gang, would you not, at least, try to get out of it? There are questions here that do not get an answer. Once you are on the train, maybe you just have to continue.

The tempo is extremely high through all of the three books, and I, at least, found myself holding my breath. Constantly moving forwards, even when there seem to be quiet moments. We meet gangsters, thugs, and both honest and corrupt policemen, and women. In all of this, Sophie has to balance on a tight-rope to be able to come out of this alive, as well as protecting her son.

As the story unfolds, the plot is becoming more complicated, as the international gangs are taking the stake higher and higher. The more complicated the plot is becoming, the more you ask yourself how this will end. Well, the end came quite as a surprise. Considering there really are no winners in this story, I think it was all right.

It seems the first book will be filmed, but no further details available.  It will be interesting to see who will play Sophie, Hector, and Albert, and all the other characters. I can't wait to see what the movie producers will make of it.

Monday, 11 May 2020

Gabriel Farago x 2

Gabriel Farago is an international, bestselling Australian author of the Jack Rogan mysteries. I have already enjoyed several of his books, among them The Kimberley Secret and Professor K: The Final Quest. His hero, Jack Rogan, is a man entirely to my liking. He is an Australian journalist, interested in history and mysteries. Charming, talented, and with a certain kind of humour, he seems to fit in anywhere.  It was nice to meet him again in two books I read during my Caribbean holiday over Christmas and New Year:  The Forgotten Painting and The Curious Case of the Missing Head.

The Forgotten Painting

I divide the books about Jack Rogan into the earlier ones and the later ones. The earlier ones, of which The Forgotten Painting is one, is of a more 'simple' structure, than the newer books by Farago. I classify them as an old fashion mystery book à la Agatha Christie. They are based on a mystery in the past which Rogan is trying to solve.
"When celebrated author Jack Rogan stumbles upon a hidden diary, he can’t resist investigating. Honouring the last wish of a dying friend, he is irresistibly drawn into a web of intriguing clues, hinting at a long forgotten treasure. 
Joining forces with Cecilia Crawford, a glamorous New York journalist, and Tristan, a remarkable boy with psychic powers, Jack soon finds himself on a precarious journey of discovery, exposing dark secrets from a distant, violent time, when life was cheap and cruelty ruled without mercy. 
Will Rogan succeed? Can he find the forgotten treasure he has been searching for, or will it be lost forever, depriving the world of a masterpiece that belongs to all mankind."
The forgotten treasure is a painting, lost since World War II.  Rogan's quest to find the treasure, mentioned in a diary, takes him all over Europe, from the dens of forgers into the most exclusive auctioneering houses of Europe. But it does not end there. Are the clues Rogan found really true or is someone playing with them?

Gabriel Farago notes that The Forgotten Painting is a novella, and thus shorter than his ordinary novels. He chose this genre as a way to introduce new readers to his work. It does work very well. Personally, I love mysteries of this kind, and when we think we know the answer to the mystery, the story takes another turn. A good introduction to Farago's hero.

The Curious Case of the Missing Head

With his later books, Gabriel Farago has entered into the world of international crime, and he does it with great skills. The stories are well built up and very complex. The different storylines are skillfully merging in the end.
"Esteemed Australian journalist Jack Rogan is on a mission to solve the disappearance of his mother in the 70s. But when a friend needs help rescuing a kidnapped world-renowned astrophysicist, he doesn’t hesitate. Struggling with more questions than answers, his investigation leads them aboard a hellish hospital ship, where instead of finding the kidnap victim, he’s confronted with a decapitated corpse. 
As the search intensifies, Jack bumps up against diabolical cartels with hidden agendas. And when his research reveals dubious experiments, a criminal on death row, and a shocking revelation about his mother’s fate, he must uncover how it’s all linked.
Can Jack unravel the twisted connections and catch the scientist’s killer, or will the next obituary published be his own? 
The Curious Case of the Missing Head is the fifth standalone novel in the page-turning Jack Rogan Mysteries series. If you like meticulous theoretical science, exponentially increasing intensity, and astonishing surprises, then you’ll love Gabriel Farago’s hair-raising medical thriller."
This is a thriller that keeps you hooked from the first page to the last. Farago's thrillers are so well researched. Often science plays a big role in the stories, as here, and it is impressive how much detail we are given. That is what makes his stories seem trustworthy.

What I also like with this novel, as well as with Farago's other novels, is that the characters are carefully sketched. Usually, people are either good or bad. Farago gives both the good and the bad ones more dimensional characters.

In principle, there are two mysteries in this novel; the long-ago disappearance of Rogan's mother and the kidnapping of a scientist. You wonder how Farago will be able to tie together two such separate stories in the end, but he does.

The Jack Rogan mysteries can be read in any order. Each book has a story that is finalised in the end. As I said, I love some of the earlier books where you meet Rogan as he starts his 'career' as an investigating journalist. However, it is no problem to start with later books, where the stories are more complex.

On Gabriel Farago's website, you can get a free download of some of his earlier books. His newsletters are also worth subscribing too.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

The Strauss Family by Peter Prange

This book Die Strauß- Dynastie was published in 1993, so it has been a long time with me. I love classical music, and some of the best and most beautiful music comes from the Strauß family. It seems that Peter Prange wrote the book from a manuscript. That is maybe why, at least in the beginning, it is a bit difficult to come into. A bit of static writing. However, as I came further into the story, the exciting, and rather sad, history of this family took over.

It is an unusually talented family, all the sons were into music. Maybe Johann was the most talented, but the other two brothers, Joseph and Eduard, made their marks at the time. Johann Strauß, the elder, left his wife and family to move in with his mistress. It was a big change for the family, even if the husband/father paid for them. The mother, Anna, became a rather miserable figure. Although one must admire her stamina, she was a powerful woman and reigned her family, that is, her children with an iron hand. Having said that, she also dedicated her life to her sons and their music.

The brothers did not get along very well, which also affected the family. Johann Strauß, the younger, left his home at a rather young age, and sort of distanced himself from them. His career is interesting and his fame did not come without sacrifices. Both father and son traveled extensively over Europe and America, leaving the political climate of Vienna.

A fascinating family who ruled the dancing scene of Vienna for most of their lives. Their music is still popular today, and that says something of its charm and quality. Reading about their lives gives another aspect to their music, the times they lived in, and the faith of a family who was striving in different directions. An amazing and interesting account of a talented family who put their marks on the world.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

The Book of Secrets by Tom Harper

Another excellent book from my own shelves, The Book of Secrets by Tom Harper. It just shows how many good books are hiding there. The book covers two separate stories, one in the past and one in the present. This structure I find very appealing, maybe because I love historical fiction. It is a mystery and thriller and it holds you captured to the very end.
"In a snowbound village in the German mountains, a young woman discovers an extraordinary secret. Before she can reveal it, she disappears. All that survives is a picture of a mysterious medieval playing card that has perplexed scholars for centuries. Nick Ash does research for the FBI in New York. Six months ago his girlfriend Gilliam walked out and broke his heart. Now he's the only person who can save her - if it's not too late. Within hours of getting her message Nick finds himself on the run, delving deep into the past before it catches up with him. Hunted across Europe, Nick follows Gillian's trail into the heart of a 500-year-old mystery. But across the centuries, powerful forces are closing around him. There are men who have devoted their lives to keeping the secret, and they will stop at nothing to protect it." 
The book might be compared to  The Da Vinci Code, although it does not have an overall religious theme, even if it is bordering. Nick's quest for Gilliam takes him and his friend Emily on a trip around Europe, in order to discover the meaning of the medieval playing cards, at the base of this story. Someone is following in their trail and leaving death behind. 

In the distant, medieval past Johann Gensfleisch is absorbed by his will to create something beautiful and lasting. Fate takes him through a Europe hit by the plague, poverty, and violence. He makes friends as well as enemies, but when he meets the talented painter Kaspar Drach, he is drawn into his not so organised world.  
"He was the most obscenely talented man I ever met - more so, I believe, than Nicholas Cusanus. While Cusanus tended his thoughts in walled gardens, Drach roamed freely across the earth; where Cusanus pruned, watered, shaped, and cropped, Drach sprayed his seed without thought for where it would land. Tangled meadows of bright and fantastical flowers sprouted wherever he walked. Though among their twisted stems, serpents lurked."
Both storylines are set with mystery and violence. With the historical story, Harper takes us into a world of darkness, as his characters are facing the hardships of the time. With the modern story, we are equally into something mysterious and hidden. It is fascinating, thrilling and a few surprises along the line. The language is beautiful, the characters are drawn with care, and we are allowed to follow them in the distant. The purpose of the chase stays open until the very end. A book that is difficult to put down.  Although it is a mystery and thriller, it is written in a poetic language that usually is not found in books like this.  My first experience with Tom Harper, but certainly not the last.

Monday, 4 May 2020

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I must be rather lucky with my reading for the time being. I have read so many really good books. The best books ever, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, seems to have been just the beginning. Just read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and ended up with another really, really, good book. 
"Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day, and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled existence, Except, sometimes, everything..."
As the summary tells us, Elanor Oliphant is a down to earth, simple woman who has planned her life accordingly. She is happy and satisfied and does not seem to lack anything. Maybe we laugh a little bit about her in the beginning or wondering why she lives such a plain life, without very much excitement. Well, we are about to learn a great deal about Eleanor Oliphant.

Her perfectly planned life is changing due to two men; Raymond, the new computer technician at her work, and Johnnie Rocks, a musician, and singer. The first one becomes a friend and the second one is her chosen boyfriend to be. The only thing is; Johnnie does not know it and they have not yet met.

This is in a way both a hilarious and a sad book. However, Honeyman manages to be so honest about Eleanor, that very soon we just love her. We realise that she suffers from a trauma in her childhood, maybe have some kind of syndrome, that makes it difficult for her to show and feel emotions. We are eagerly following her own kind of logic, realises when it will go wrong, and are happy when things are going well. It is a fantastic book about life, circumstances and our possibilities to change our lives. Sometimes with a little bit of help. I will not add more than this in order not to spoil the story. We are surprised about Eleanor and her life as we follow her path to another, hopefully, happier life.

In an interview in The Guardian, Gail Honeyman said: "I didn't want Eleanor Oliphant to be portrayed as a victim." Indeed, she has not. It is a wonderfully written account over a difficult life, but where Eleanor has found her a place where she can live. It is only when outside forces enter into her life, that she is at first, terrified, and then hoping for something else. The end is quite surprising. It is a must-read.

I hope the quotes I have chosen here, give you an idea of the character of Eleanor Oliphant.  You just can't help loving her, and when you have reached this point, you do realise she is completely fine.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Book Beginnings on Fridays and The Friday 56

The Content Reader

This week's book is one that I have had for quite some time on my shelves, The Book of Secrets by Tom Harper. The back cover summary tells a story that is exactly my cup of tea.

"In a snowbound village in the German mountains, a young woman discovers an extraordinary secret. Before she can reveal it, she disappears. All that survives is a picture of a mysterious medieval playing card that has perplexed scholars for centuries. 
Nick Ash does research for the FBI in New York. Six months ago his girlfriend Gilliam walked out and broke his heart. Now he's the only person who can save her - if it's not too late. Within hours of getting her message Nick finds himself on the run, delving deep into the past before it catches up with him. 
Hunted across Europe, Nick follows Gillian's trail into the heart of a 500-year-old mystery. But across the centuries, powerful forces are closing around him. There are men who have devoted their lives to keeping the secret, and they will stop at nothing to protect it." 

Book Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader

"Oberwinter, GermanyThick snow covered the village that morning.  cold silence gripped the streets. The cars parked opposite the hotel were shrouded with frost - except one, where a gloved hand had scraped a rough circle clear on the driver's window. Behind the black glass, the red eye of a cigarette blinked and glowed."

The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice
"'There is your design. A penny to whoever produces the more perfect copy.' 
The penny did not interest me: I knew I would win it. Something about what Konrad did had chimed false, though I did not know what it was. I pondered it while I worked on the ring. First, I took a flimsy piece of parchment that had been soaked to become translucent and traced the image on the paper with a leaded stylus. I washed a thin layer of wax over the face of the ring, and rubbed the back of my parchment with the lead. Then I put the ring in a vice, overlaid the parchment and retraced the image, bearing down hard with the stylus. When I took the parchment away, a light grey stag had appeared on the wax-coated ring."