The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

By guest reviewer Kate Oliver

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My rating: ★★★★★

The Basics: Rising star author Marcus Goldman’s struggle with his second book leads him back to his college mentor Harry Quebert. A few months later, a young girl’s body is found in Harry’s back yard and he is accused of her murder, leading Marcus to investigate the case as his own.

In depth: This novel was translated from the hugely popular 2012 French novel “La Vérité sur l’Affaire Harry Quebert and has sold more than two million copies across Europe; it’s not difficult to see why. The novel is engaging and utterly absorbing from the first few pages, with the chapter numbers running in reverse chronology, a trick the reader may not notice immediately. It expertly jumps between past and present, with no feeling of confusion or jetlag on the reader’s part. The book is a book within a book; a novel about writing and books and the power of books themselves. It is about writers, the way they write, their inspiration and how books can change the lives of both writers and the readers.

Although the book’s title does not allude to her, the real and intriguing focus of the novel is the young Nola Kellergan, a fifteen year old girl who went missing on August 30 1975 and whose body is found 33 years later in June 2008, in Harry Quebert’s back yard, buried with the manuscript of his greatest novel. Quebert is immediately arrested for her murder but continues to protest his innocence throughout.

Marcus Goldman, the novel’s narrator, is Harry’s protégé and the closest thing Harry has to a son or any family of his own. Harry is a writer, one of the greats of the last century, but peaked with his second book, The Origin of Evil and meets Marcus as his college professor in a small town near Somerset, New Hampshire. And so begins a relationship between the two men, and a dialogue between them throughout the book. Each chapter begins with a snippet of a conversation between them, with Quebert giving advice to Marcus about writing, their mutual love of boxing, and ultimately life. One of my personal favourites includes:

Words are for everybody, until you prove that you are capable of appreciating them. That’s what defines a writer. You see Marcus, some people would like you to believe that a book consists of relationships between words, but that’s not true: It is in fact about relationships between people.

After college, Marcus too becomes a great writer, with his first novel becoming a huge success and leading him to the be the new ‘It’ boy in New York City. However, the pressure to perform as highly with his second novel causes him writer’s block and so he returns to Harry’s coastal home in Somerset to try and cure himself and start writing again. During his stay with Harry, he discovers that during the summer of 1975, Harry conducted a relationship with fifteen year old Nola Kellergan but told no one about it and begs Marcus to do the same. After six weeks, he returns to New York, only to hear shortly after that the body of the missing fifteen year old girl has been found in Harry’s back yard. Sure of his mentor’s innocence, he travels back to Somerset. With the help of the initially moody, yet ultimately cooperative and highly intelligent Sergeant Gahalowood, Marcus undertakes his own investigation into the elusive and intriguing Nola Kellergan and what exactly happened during the summer of 1975.

The twists and turns of this novel are part of its excellence, however this is not the kind of novel that relies solely on big reveals and surprises in order to keep the reader engaged. The author’s style of writing is easy, and a complete pleasure to read and this must be due to not only author Joël Dicker, but also to Sam Taylor who translated the novel into English. The beauty of this novel is in both the story, which is complex without being complicated, but (for me) even more importantly the writing, which doesn’t detract from the story itself, but only enhances it. Its simplicity allows the reader to consider what may happen next and allows us to figure out what happened at the same pace as the narrator, but the author’s command of language means this is the kind of book you want to luxuriate in; one you want to curl up inside and enjoy every single moment of.

I adored this book and wanted to write this review to encourage as many people as possible to enjoy it as well and so I have deliberately left out any spoilers so people can enjoy it first hand as I did. The final quote in the epilogue is perfect, it sums up exactly how I felt about this novel as a whole:

A good book, Marcus, is judged not by its last words but by the cumulative effect of all the words that have preceded them. About half a second after finishing your book, after reading the very last word, the reader should be overwhelmed by a particular feeling. For a moment, he should think only of what he has just read; he should look at the cover and smile a little sadly because he is already missing all the characters. A good book Marcus, is a book you are sorry to have finished. 

Please leave your comments and questions below.

Book review: A Small Town in Germany

9780141196381A Small Town in Germany – John le Carré

My rating: ★★★★☆

Warning: this review contains plot spoilers.

I purchased this book in a small craft fair in St Ives of Cornwall last week. It revolves around the British Embassy in Bonn in West Germany, the ‘Small Town’ of the title, in the late 1960s.

An ailing British Government are desperate to join the Common Market in Europe but due to hostility from France are overly reliant on Germany, as their only European ally, to support their membership. Sound familiar? This fictitious context struck me as strikingly similar to what the UK’s near future could soon look like after the recent EU referendum result.

However this novel was published in 1968 with le Carré firmly on his home turf of the Cold War. It sees a junior Embassy staff member, Leo Harting, go missing with a horde of files containing some of the British Government’s dearest secrets at a time of crucial Foreign Office negotiations in Brussels. Keen to prevent any harm to this Brussels bid, London sends Alan Turner to Bonn to investigate where Harting and the crucial files have got to.

His investigations initially find the Embassy and it’s daily, diplomatic life as one of dour incompetence. However through his amusingly indelicate questioning style Turner begins to build a picture of Harting as a man who slowly weeded his way into positions of undeserved trust, often through romance with female staff or even the wive’s of his male colleagues. Turner also begins to see traits of himself in the missing Harting; a man with a strong, and sometimes destructive, desire for the truth. One character describes Turner as “a man who would pull down a forest to find an acorn.”

Throughout Turner witnesses the civil unrest wrought by a German nationalist politician called Karfeld. As the fast rising Opposition leader Karfeld’s emotive speeches generate an atmosphere of violent student led protests across Germany with some uncomfortable parallels to its dark, recent past. Powerful posters of Karfeld’s populist, anti-British and quasi neo-Nazi slogans embellish Turner’s investigation, which runs against the dual clocks of an impending protest march in Bonn and the upcoming British bid in Brussels.

The search sees Turner discover the missing files and Harting’s noble aim to use them to reveal the true past of Karfeld before he gets into power. Karfeld’s past as a German war hero in Stalingrad is actually shown by British files as a cover up to hide his involvement in horrifying medical experiments during the Holocaust.

As the most frightening element of this novel, this resurgence of neo-Nazism is only matched by the ugly and complete moral flexibility of the British Embassy leaders. Despite his assurances to only want to help Turner find Harting the Embassy Head, Rawley Bradfield, is actually less than eager for Harting’s findings to find oxygen. This comes solely down to his cynical hedging of bets; as Karfeld is viewed not only as a potential future partner to be on the right side of, but also for the short term goal of not rocking the boat and upsetting the German intelligence services with Britain relying heavily on their support in their European application.

This dark conclusion builds on a common theme in le Carre’s novels which paints the world of spying as not a glamorous Bond-like jaunt, but rather a truly dangerous world of cold and unpleasant realities and if need be betrayal. Characters in this book with any professional/career success in this world of spying often carry burdens of a failure in many parts of their private lives, particularly relationships.

Overall this novel contains a surprisingly fresh story from le Carre’s early canon, especially as it was published in between the more famous Cold War thrillers The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. It is a foreboding tale with its conclusion, the fate of the elusive Harting, hanging precariously in the balance until the final pages. Because of this it is a natural page turner which grips your attention from first to last.

Best Quote: ‘Then why look for him?’ – Jenny

‘Why not? That’s how we spend our lives, isn’t it? Looking for people we’ll never find.’ – Turner

Have you read this novel or any other of John le Carré’s? What did you think of it? Please leave your comments below.

Review: A Clash of Kings (Game of Thrones Book 2)

m7uSDn9UoHrkd8hvykAQljwA Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) by George R.R. Martin.

My rating: ★★

Warning this post contains plot spoilers.

George R. R. Martin’s second novel in his Game of Thrones series follows immediately in the bloody aftermath of the previous book with the main story arcs continuing as so; in Westeros, a violent and destructive war between the Lannister’s and the North led by Robb Stark; beyond the Wall, the Night Watch’s expedition to find Benjen Stark and investigate the Wildlings; and across the Narrow Sea in the Eastern lands, Daenerys Targaryen navigating the dangerous early days of caring for her young dragons after the death of Khal Drogo.

However the overwhelming focus, which gives the novel its name, is very much in Westeros where five kings fight for power. The first is the young King Joffrey Lannister, installed after the death of King Robert in the previous book by the hand of his Mother regent, the fearsome Cersei Lannister. This story arc of the Lannister’s is again told through the Imp Tyrion Lannister, who as commanded by his warring father and much to the dismay of his sister Cersei, returns to King’s Landing as the Hand of the King. His chapters are among the best in the book, especially his baiting intrigue against his impatient sister and his sizing up of potential future allies/ enemies such as the all hearing eunuch Varys and the Machiavellian Master of Coin Petyr Baelish.

The other claimants to the Iron Throne are Stannis Baratheon, who rules Dragonstone across a short sea; his younger brother and rival, Renly Baratheon, from the South; the proclaimed King of the North, Robb Stark, and the many factions which follow his banner; and finally Balon Greyjoy, father of Theon whose perspective introduces this family, who as Lord of the Iron Islands aims to exploit the lack of leadership and arms in the neighbouring coastal areas of the North.

Overall this second novel is as brilliant as the first with the sheer wealth of context given to each chapter, character and house almost difficult to believe coming from just one person’s imagination. In the second half the plot picks up its pace and the highlight is undoubtedly the massive battle at King’s Landing between the defending Lannister forces and Lord Stannis’ fleet. Victory for the Lannister’s see Joffrey’s rule of the Iron Throne continue, with it likely to only strengthen with the return of Tywin Lannister to King’s Landing as the Hand of the King.

Other major substantial plot developments are the abilities of Bran, and briefly Jon, as Wargs meaning they can enter the minds of their wolves and even control their actions. This enables Jon to see a massive Wildling army led by the King-Beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder, including giants and mammoths, assembling near to the Night’s Watch. This also leads to Jon Snow’s betrayal of Qhorin Halfhand, planned by them both, which allows him to yield to and infiltrate the Wildlings. This comes after his wise show of mercy to not kill the Wildling girl, Ygritte, he had earlier captured.

Bran escapes Winterfell, after it is captured by the turncloak Theon Greyjoy who is eager to impress his indifferent father, along with his brother Rickon, Osha, Hodor and their new friends, Meera and her brother Jojen Reed, who introduce Bran to his powers as a Warg. Theon eventually loses Winterfell to the bastard Ramsey Bolton, whose cruelty is referred to in passing through-out the novel, who sacks Winterfell and kidnaps him.

Favourite plot/story line: Tyrion Lannister’s surprisingly apt turn in King’s Landing as the Hand of the King, with its constant intrigue, is a brilliant story line, but for being a brand new character’s perspective Ser Davos Seaworth’s chapters were my favourite. They introduce the austere and dark regime of Lord Stannis Baratheon, which becomes increasingly reliant on the dark arts of the faith of the Red Woman Melisandre.

Ser Davos is a former smuggler, turned Knight who is loyal to Stannis, who as the eldest brother of the late King Robert Baratheon arguably holds the purest claim to the Iron Throne. Stannis, however, is an overly stubborn, serious man who is little loved by his men and after fleeing to the island keep of Dragonstone, due to the past slight of King Robert’s choice of Ned Stark instead of him as Hand of the King, suffers from a serious lack of swords and shields to take the Iron Throne.

It is the sorcery of the Red Woman, witnessed first hand by Ser Davos, which are the most shocking plot twists of this second book. Particularly; the murder of Stannis’ younger brother Renly Baratheon by a shadow and the birth of another shadow from the Red Woman to infiltrate Storm’s End to murder Ser Cortnay Penrose who refused to yield after Renly’s death. These wicked acts, reluctantly tolerated by Ser Davos, help make Stannis the main challenger to the Lannister’s rule of King’s Landing.

Least favourite plot/story line: Daenerys Targaryen features very lightly in the first half of this book with only one chapter, which I have to admit was pleasing to me as this is my least favourite story in this series so far. The rest of her story sees her and her remaining followers travel the deadly eastern deserts and finally finding refuge in the city of Qarth where she is ultimately unable to secure support for her mission to retake the Iron Throne. She also realises the love her close knight Ser Jorah Mormont holds for her but quickly decides that she does not love him.

Daenerys’ story in this novel concludes after a failed assassination attempt against her sees her brought into contact with Strong Belwas and Arstan Whitebeard who inform her they represent her former ally Illyrio Mopatis, who means to have her escorted back to Pentos so he can help her again.

Best quote: “What sort of reasons do you mean to give them?”

“Gold reasons,” Littlefinger suggested at once.

Have you read this second book of the Game of Thrones series? What were you favourite story lines or parts of it? Please leave your comments below.

Book review: Animal Farm

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707 (1)Animal Farm by George Orwell

My rating: ★★★★★

Warning this post contains plot spoilers.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a striking little novel which fuses an easy to follow short story with a savage political satire of the Russian Revolution and its betrayal by the darker elements of human nature. It charts a farm’s descent from the early hope of a better future, after its animals rebel and overthrow their human overlords, to the encroaching and increasingly perverse rule of the all powerful Napoleon in an unnervingly calm, step-by-step plot. With it’s benefit of (unstated) historical hindsight, alongside the artistic use of animals to represent historical individuals, Orwell’s writing demonstrates a brooding authority which marks the self-serving and tragic implications of each plot development as both frighteningly stark and desperately out of the reader’s control.

Many of the animals represent different social institutions, groups or individuals; Mr Jones is the careless, cruel and often drunk man who initially owns the farm who represents the bourgeois enemy of the suffering proletariat that is the animals; Moses, the tamed raven of Mr Jones, represents the Church, with his persuasive, comforting and distracting tale of a country called “Sugarcandy Mountain” in the sky where all animals go to when they die and live in eternal bliss. Two other characters who stand out are Boxer; an immensely strong and unquestioning horse committed wholeheartedly to following his revolutionary leaders, and Squealer; a clever pig who has such a talented way with words that he “could turn black into white,” who acts as the emergent regime’s mouthpiece spewing its increasingly contradictory propaganda.

After overthrowing Mr Jones the animals, led by the pigs who learn to read and write, decree the seven commandments of the ideology of Animalism on the barn wall to which all agree. Attention is then quickly turned to the labour of the hay harvest but it is just before this when the first tangible chink in the armour of what Orwell calls a ‘fairy story’ appears. Before the hard labour of harvest is carried out by the animals, the cows are milked by the pigs which produces buckets full of creamy, tasty looking milk to which the animals eyes lustily fall aware that all farm produce now belongs to all animals equally. However Napoleon, one of the cleverest pigs, tells the animals to forget the milk for now and to concentrate on the vital work of the harvest. However, “when they came back in the evening it was noticed that the milk had disappeared.”

From this dark hint at the future the animals, led by the naturally more intelligent pigs, proceed to run the farm on their terms rather than under the whim of man. However a rivalry between two of the more intelligent pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, rapidly emerges. This is largely based on their very different natures; Napoleon is used to get his own way and adept at quietly gathering support, whilst Snowball is more expressive of his ideas and a great public speaker who is able to eloquently persuade the other animals at public debates. The two also constantly oppose each other’s ideas.

This rivalry undoubtedly represents an analogy of the great power struggle in post revolution, post-Lenin USSR between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky. One particularly powerful parallel which stood out to me was the debate around the defence of the farm. Napoleon suggests the animals should be trained in the use of weapons to strengthen their own farm against any human attackers, compared to Snowball’s preference to send pigeon messengers to other farms to spread the word of Animalism to help create unrest and possible rebellion, thereby reducing the amount of enemies. This broadly follows the rival ideas of Stalin’s Socialism in One Country policy which prioritised the internal strengthening of the Soviet Union compared with Trotsky’s ideas of continual international revolution.

Snowball is chased and banished from the farm with Napoleon seizing control and quickly installing fear into the animals. The maxim that Napoleon can never be wrong is adopted and the collective history of the farm’s rebellion is also changed to reduce the prominence of Snowball. Orwell then depicts every stage of the Farm’s descent into a paranoid, violent dictatorship led by the all powerful Napoleon. There are false propaganda campaigns, absurdly fabricated production statistics but yet still famine, show trial purges of former animal allies and blatant compromises of the previous principles of Animalism. Primarily all of these principles are broken but the most obvious are the killing of animals by other animals as well as the emergence of an unequal allocation of labour. This is between most animals having to work like slaves whilst starving and the pigs who very do little other than feast and increasingly live like their former human masters.

The book ends in dramatic and tragic fashion. The remaining ‘lower animals’ take a peek into the former home of Mr Jones where the pigs now live. After inviting the neighbouring human farm owners around to feast the animals outside overhear the pigs discuss their joint interests. Animalism is truly dead with the interests of the privileged few reinforced and the pigs; who sit, talk and drink like their former human enemies, and in fact rule more harshly; are impossible to tell apart from the humans during their heated final words during drunken a card game.

Best Quote: It may be a cliché but it’s hard to look beyond the infamous: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.

Have you ever read Animal Farm or any other novels by George Orwell? If so, please leave your comments below.

Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

250px-BatmanDK2Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley.

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Basics: Frank Miller’s sequel to his seminal The Dark Knight Returns series sees Bruce Wayne set his sights on liberating a decadent America ruled by a shadowy dictatorship led by Lex Luthor.

In-depth: After recently finishing the excellent and inspiring The Dark Knight Returns (DKR), of which you can read my review here, I naively rushed into purchasing this sequel. However soon after I became aware of the universal disappointment with which this graphic novel is held, which appears to have been constant since its release in 2001, and I definitely share it.

The plot leaves plenty to be desired which I will get to below. What really stands out, even to a amateur admirer of graphic novels such as I, is the shockingly poor quality of the artwork. The sharp and glorious frames of the DKR are long gone; replaced with heavy, over-cartoonish and what appeared to be very rushed drawings which do not make you want to continue reading. Many pages are simply wasted on over futuristic streaks of colour and massively over-sized simplistic characters.

There is also a troubling streak of sexism evident in this novel series. Carrie Kelley, the former Robin in Dark Knight Returns, is now Batgirl in a skin tight lycra suit with accompanying roller skates whilst uttering a weird reference to “swallowing.” This theme continues with largely irrelevant and bizarre TV sex themed news channels filling much of the novel’s narration, in stark contrast to the news readers which were hilariously and mercilessly mocked in the DKR. Wonder Woman is also depicted in perhaps one of the worst frames in the novel.

Regarding the plot; Bruce Wayne, known to the world as Batman but believed dead after his faked death at the end of the DKR, has completed training his army of Batboys, who were the former members of the Mutants gang. Aided by Catgirl and the Batboys, Batman breaks into a number of government buildings to break out imprisoned superheros. The DC universe is fully mined with appearances from many including Atom, Flash, Captain Marvel and Plastic Man. Green Arrow and Elongated Man; the worst of this sad series of unrealistic and second rate characters who merely flood the pages and take vital space away from the cover character who is simply not in this enough, make up the ranks. Superman and Wonder Woman are relegated by their blackmailing into upholding Luthor’s rule.

After a fierce battle and the successful neutralising of the Government stooge Superman, who is motivated solely by the threatened destruction of his home city of Kandor, Batman unites all of the other heros to overthrow Luthor’s rule which is fronted by the US administration of President Rickard, who is merely a hologram hiding Luthor and his ally Brainiac. This produces an end times battle which consumes the cities of Gotham and Metropolis. Little care is produced by this clunky plot that is so large it is difficult and tiresome to follow at times. It may sound a strange criticism to say of a Batman graphic novel but the story is far too unrealistic and all encompassing, as is the futuristic and undeveloped artwork, and only goes to reinforce an unwelcome contrast to the gritty realism of the DKR. It really is genuinely difficult to believe this series came from the same Frank Miller who also produced the DKR and Batman: Year One.

The one saving grace for me is the interesting, but crowbarred, ending where the former Robin, Dick Grayson, suddenly returns to emulate the Joker with a mad killing spree of Batman’s allies. Grayson then attacks Batman’s closet friend Carrie and nearly kills her before Batman returns. This idea of a former ally driven insane through Wayne’s harsh and abusive training regime is a worthy one, particularly when that former ally then aims to copy and become the Batman’s greatest rival, however it is a late addition to the plot and feels deserving of more attention.

In conclusion Batman battles Grayson but quickly realises that his newly acquired supernatural self healing powers means he will need to take himself down with Grayson into the lava filled void underneath the Batcave. At this point it is Superman; Batman’s external rival in Miller’s universe, now freed after Luther’s overthrow, who comes to Wayne’s rescue, leaving Grayson to his fall into oblivion.

Have you read this graphic novel? Were you as disappointed with it as I was? Were there any saving graces in it? Please leave your comments below.

Book review: Moriarty

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Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

My rating: ★★★☆☆

(Warning this post contains plot spoilers)

The Basics: A private detective from an American agency, Frederick Chase, arrives in London to investigate the brutal murder of his former coworker in a quiet London suburb. Chase’s investigation, taking place in the immediate aftermath of the death of Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, brings him into contact with the Scotland Yard Inspector, Athelney Jones, a keen student of Holmes’ famous detecting skills. Their pairing leads them into a dangerous investigation into the shady underworld of a new wave of American crime sweeping London.

In depth: Firstly I must admit this book was an impulse buy. Firstly for its title: Moriarty is a character who greatly interests me and this is mainly down to the marvellous depiction by Andrew Scott in the BBC hit series Sherlock. Secondly, the simple but alluring cover art of a Victorian London with St. Pauls Cathedral towering over a smoke filled London skyline.

I was also not aware of the prequel to this novel also by Anthony Horowitz, interestingly the only author to have ever been granted permission by the family of Conan Arthur Doyle to add to the Holmes canon. However, although a novel with a almighty plot twist, which I genuinely did not see coming, I found this book underwhelming and at best rather average.

The narrator, Frederick Chase, arrives in Switzerland at the body of the criminal mastermind Moriarty who had supposedly fell to his death alongside his arch nemesis Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls. Here Chase meets the other main character, Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard, a keen student knowledgeable of the many wondrous ways of the great detective. The pair quickly spark up an investigative relationship which is obviously meant to mirror that of Holmes and Watson.

However the pair’s investigations centre not on the mystery of Moriarty’s and Holmes’ deaths, but on finding an unseen American criminal mastermind, known as Clarence Devereux, who they suspect is attempting to replace Moriarty and make London his own. Although central to the later plot twist, most of the plot actually fills like a second rate version of a Holmes/Watson tale with characters with little backstory and, frankly, of little interest. Even the murder teased at on the back cover of the novel, of a former coworker of Chase’s from the American private investigatory firm, receives scant attention.

The new supervillian Clarence Devereux turns out to be an American disguised as a diplomat hiding behind the jurisdictional protection of the American Embassy in London. His is a character not revealed to late, and of no major interest, and his lesser American criminal allies who make up most of the novel are of even less interest.

To the authors credit there are a number of things this book does well. Horowitz’s Victorian London is a wonderful setting, particularly its dark and dangerous docks in the East End the perfect scene for a number of pursuits by Chase and Jones. There are also one or two familiar characters from the Holmes canon such as Lestrade from Scotland Yard and the choice of Anthenly Jones as a central character is a neat one as he actually appears as a minor character, depicted as a useless policeman, in an original Sherlock story “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons.”

However the characters of Holmes and Moriarty (both said to be dead) or even Dr. Watson are hardly mentioned until a late plot twist. Although no doubt a surprise and logically astute, the book’s narrator Chase is revealed to be Professor Moriarty, who has used Scotland Yard and Jones to find his elusive rival Devereux. The books most interesting passages are when the narrator briefly retells the plot through this new scope, a murder investigated in the book was actually carried out by the narrator. The author then actually candidly challenges the reader as to why this makes sense as the name which adorns the book is of course Moriarty and it should be no surprise that it is his story contained within.

Although undoubtedly clever, this plot twist, as well as the conclusion of the story, which sees Moriarty murder Jones, kidnap Devereux and concludes by deciding to travel back to the USA to take over his criminal network there, are ultimately underwhelming. It may seem harsh but they do not feel worth the slog that is the preceding investigations of second rate American villains by Chase/Jones.

The book is then strangely concluded by a separate short story which does actually in fact centre on Holmes and Watson. This is, I think, unrelated to the preceding story and probably the best part of Horowitz’s strange and underwhelming book. Maybe another sequel with the return of Holmes and Watson in the same universe as Moriarty is in order.

Have you read this book? Do you agree with my review or did you have a different take on it? Do you think that modern authors can productively add to famous old stories? Please your comments below.

Book review: A Game of Thrones

A-Game-of-Thrones-MountainA Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.

My rating: ★★★★★

(Warning this post contains plot spoilers)

Although daunting I have committed to reading the entire Game of Thrones series. The first is an immersing introduction to the vast imagination of Martin and goes so much deeper than the hit TV series.

The sheer number of characters are at first difficult to keep up with, but soon become surprisingly easy to follow. This is largely due to the amazing depth of detail the author commits to each faction, known as Houses, but also the simple and relatable frustrations and feelings of the main characters.

Each chapter is written from the viewpoint of one of the main characters, offering readers insights into events from multiple points of view in the story.

This book is largely spilt into three plot lines. I will not outline the whole intricacies of the plots and families which make up the story but the three main stories are; the intrigues across the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, particularly the Stark and Lannister families; secondly the Night’s Watch who guard the Wall in the wintered North of Westeros against the rumoured horrors beyond it; and finally across the Narrow Sea the exile of the remnants of the deposed, former rulers of Westeros, the Targaryen family, through the 13 year old girl Daenerys Targaryen.

My personal favourite was the story at the Wall. This is a massive ice wall constructed thousands of years ago to keep out the White Walkers, essentially ice zombies, whose horrors are briefly teased at in the opening chapter and are constantly dismissed by most characters throughout this first book as mere hear say and myth. The Black Watch guard the Wall from their fort at Castle Black and this is where Ned Stark’s bastard son Jon Snow is sent to. Here he takes an oath committing his whole life to the Watch with no reprieve other than death. I very much enjoyed how the Black Watch is seen as a dumping pit for the Seven Kingdoms, be that violent criminals or unwanted bastard sons, and how even though it performs the critical role of guarding Westeros from the dangers of the North it is critically under-resourced and largely forgetton by the many Houses which indulge in their power games elsewhere. Some of this books best passages are of Jon Snow’s own battles to choose between honouring the vows he has taken for the Black Watch and his natural desire to flee to help his adopted Stark family which is duly ripped apart by intrigue, betrayal and war elsewhere in the Kingdoms.

Each chapter somehow ends with a cliffhanger, making it impossible to put down and often chapters overlap so at times the reader holds more knowledge than central characters do at crucial junctures. Set in a brutal, quasi-medieval universe Game of Thrones is a violent, sex filled tale. Characters face choices and grief almost unimaginable, often facing a difficult choice between duty and what they really want or need. It is this gritty realism which gives its fantasy real depth.

Although long, at some 790 pages, the nature of Martin’s writing, the depth of the story and the way the plot unfolds it is a book which demands to be consumed quickly, much like the TV series which so many now binge watch. I raced through this in just over two weeks and now cannot wait to get my hands on the next installment.

Best quote: “A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” – Tyrion Lannister

Have you ever read the first Game of Thrones novel? What did you think of it? Who was your favorite character of House? Have you read any more of the novels and, without spoilers, are they worth reading? Please leave your comments below.