Monday, July 23, 2007

The Valley of Fear - Arthur Conan Doyle

The last of the four book-length Sherlock Holmes stories pads out an interesting Holmes investigation of a murder in a country house with a lengthy back story set in the USA. Both parts of the book keep the reader interested in the twists and turns of the plot, with a final twist as the two parts are reconciled towards the end. I think the Holmes formula worked best in the shorter stories and in truth we don't get much more than a short story's worth of Holmes here but that doesn't mean this isn't a good read and a worthy member of the canon.


Amsterdam - Ian McEwan

Quite a short novel telling of the intertwined lives of the two protagonists (one the editor of a newspaper not entirely unlike the Times, the other a composer). We start with a funeral and end... well, we end in Amsterdam. Neither of the two men at the centre of the story impress as particularly nice people to know and as each faces a failure in his career it's perhaps hard to sympathise too much. Typical McEwan writing, great fun to read with characters and situations sketched in evocative shorthand that conveys just enough for us to feel it's real life being described.


Special Topics in Calamity Physics - Marisha Pessl

I'm not keen on stories that "just stop" and leave the reader to puzzle out what may or may not have been going on all along, so I found the ending of this extravagantly praised book unsatisfactory. Before then, however, I was thoroughly engrossed in the entirely alien (to me) world of the narrator's final year of American High School. Our heroine has led a bizarre life up to the start of the events described, and the year we spend with her fits right in to that pattern. We meet a large cast of highly obnoxious school students, a deeply troubled and troubling teacher and the narrator's peculiar father. Everyone seems to be hiding large parts of themselves and not much of what they say seems to be true. The weird incidents pile up and there is at least one murder but, if the author herself knows what's really been going on, she declines to share that knowledge with the reader. Fascinating and frustrating in equal parts but I'm glad I read it all the same.