Saturday, 18 June 2016


Image result for poker

THE INNOCENT [By Harlan Coben]. Never read anything by Harlan Coben. This was another novel left behind at our French holiday apartment. Just looking at the reviews on Amazon, it generally has five-star approval although someone says it isn’t a literary masterpiece and elsewhere they say it’s ‘a good airport novel’. Certainly, most blokes in the airport in Nice if they were reading anything, were reading either Harlan Coban or Lee Child [NOT Skandi]. I packed it in at page 48. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. Tell, tell and tell again. Not for me.

RAYLAN [By Elmore Leonard]. More crime fiction. I always thought I hated this genre and have never read any of his so-called greats like Get Shorty and Hombre or indeed any of his terrific early western stuff. The blurb on the cover describes him as the Crime Writer’s crime writer. He is the guy famous/notorious for his tips on writing plainly: he said; she said; Raylan said; said Art; he said. I find it mannered and dated I’m afraid.

It’s about a gang of desperadoes who steal the kidneys from living people, usually in a motel room and  then sell them back to them [before they die]. Kidney transplants are something very close to my own knowledge base right now and the idea is completely preposterous, as far as I am concerned. His style is banter and gallows humour, like this from p.129:

‘Raylan, I hear you’re on the company’s side this time.’
‘Till tomorrow,’ Raylan said.
Another coal lover in his sport shirt and M-T company hat said to Raylan, ‘I’ll meet you after, you want. Teach you respect for the company.’
‘You don’t see me right away,’ Raylan said, ‘practice falling down till I get here.’

About half-way through the story takes a right turn in a completely different direction when the boss of M-T mining shoots a miner and then way down the line on page 200 a whole slew of new characters arrive and we get some stuff about poker players. After that he abandons the he said, she said and we go to:

‘I saw that part.’
‘Harry’ll put the checks in my account.’’
‘Were you nervous?’
‘A little. But I knew I’d win.’
‘How’d you know?’

It is linear; this happens then that happens then something else happens. He doesn’t do ‘clever’ with events out of place, which is something by and large that I don’t like. He has a slight structural problem keeping it all in the present tense which effectively means he has to have Raylan in virtually every scene, even when he has nothing to do directly with the action at that time. But it isn’t a big issue. The dialogue seems authentic . . .  Ameri-kan low-life but I am so detached these days from anything American that it is completely meaningless to me whether it is authentic or not.

Overall, I quite liked it.

THE HONOURABLE SCHOOLBOY [By John Le Carre]. Another holiday book from France, which I was reluctant to even pick up because I was so disappointed by The Night Manager and because it followed on from Tinker Taylor, one of my all-time top ten novels and I didn’t want it either spoiled or to be just left feeling disappointed again.

686 pages – Gawd.

It has terrific reviews on Amazon; five star, five star, five star although I can’t find for example reviews from The Times or The Guardian from the time. I am sure they liked it.

As I have written before, I loved Tinker Taylor, I have read it twice in fact and watched the Alec Guinness television adaption at least once. But after the disappointment of the Night Manager, I was wary of picking up yet another John LeCarre. However around about page 250 I actually thought the thought, ‘this is the best book I have ever read’. It is so beautifully crafted, it takes your breath away. 

Line after amazing line. I loved this, among many:

‘She would be funny, he decided. If Lizzie were here she would definitely see a funny side and laugh at it. Somewhere among all her imitations, he reckoned, there was a lost original, and he definitely intended to find it.’

Haven’t we all at some point in our lives thought those thoughts about someone we fancy? It’s what makes the world go round.

But that turns out to be the last great line and we are in to LeCarre the dirty old man: Korean whores; Bangkok whores; Eurasian whores, whatever they might be and of course because it is largely set in Hong Kong, Chinese whores. Never-ending racial stereotyping. Never-ending misogyny. And every character is explored in minute detail, Lizzies mother, Ko’s son, Captain Urquhart, there is a supporting cast of hundreds. Maybe that is what readers wanted back in the day [1977] God, its not what this reader wants today. So, so dated and the whole thing drags almost to a standstill, when the Americans stick their oar in.

I finished it, but If ever a novel needed a strong editor this is it.    

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