Review: Jacquot and the Fifteen by Martin O’Brien

28 April 2008

As in a previous book, Jacquot and the Master, Martin O’Brien cleverly develops a plot that follows the course of a series of murders with several possible motives and several possible perpetrators. In the case of Jacquot and the Fifteen, the action is based on the event that made him famous – the winning try scored against the English rugby team 18 years earlier. The eponymous Fifteen are the members of the French team on that glorious day, which marked Jacquot’s one and only international experience.

The team is assembled for a reunion at the mansion of their captain, now a multimillionaire, but there is a death that Jacquot isn’t prepared to accept as suicide, despite the efforts of the local judiciare to downplay things. It turns out that there have already been several deaths around the country of team members that, on Jacquot’s deeper inquiry, start to look a bit suspicious. When more team members start to die off suspicion becomes certainty and it’s a race to unmask the murderer before they all go the same way.

However, this book has the basic shortcoming of Jacquot and the Master that I noted in my earlier review – key facts not made available to us before the denouement – that robs it of any of the satisfaction that the cleverly worked atmosphere might otherwise promise. Also, in this book, we hear a bit too much of how gorgeous and desirable Jacquot is (still), about how beautiful his friend Claudine is, and how every meal is a masterpiece of culinary perfection. It’s not very good, really.

And by the way, if he really was a reserve who came on in the last ten minutes, he wouldn’t be Number 6, he would be 18 or something like that, but I guess that wouldn’t fit too well into the story.

Jacquot and the Fifteen by Martin O’Brien, published in paperback by Headline (2008), ISBN: 978 0 7553 3508 4

Other books by Martin O’Brien – All the Girls (1982), Jacquot and the Waterman (2005), Jacquot and the Angel (2005), Jacquot and the Master (2007)

Review: Gone to Ground by John Harvey

12 April 2008

John Harvey has given us the Charlie Resnick books, about a detective inspector based in Nottingham, then the shorter Frank Elder series about a retired detective inspector, Frank Elder, who keeps getting called back to Nottingham to sort out cases that have a connection with his past. Gone to Ground, however, is a one-off, and we move to Cambridge, to the investigation of the death of an academic involved in writing about a dead film star. Nevertheless, and as in previous books, there is a bit of name-checking going on, including Lynn Kellogg from the Charlie Resnick series, and Radio New Zealand’s “redoubtable” Kim Hill. This last because a key figure in the story is Lesley Scarman, sister of the deceased, who is a radio journalist fairly recently returned from a stint in New Zealand.

At first, the murder looks like a gay lovers’ tiff gone bad, but as detectives Will Grayson and Helen Walker from the Major Investigation Team, and Lesley Scarman, investigate further, it looks as though the killing may have something to do with what the victim, Stephen Bryan, might have find out about as he researched his book about a dead British film star. It seems that the film, that caught the attention of film buffs, had some similarities with her own life. Along the way we get mixed up in shady dealings at the Council, racist and homophobic attacks, not to mention some nasty family secrets. There is some stretching of coincidence when it turns out that Lesley’s former husband does PR for the soap star niece of the dead film star, but it all hangs together even if at times there seems to be lot of material stuffed into the story.

The action moves between the three main protagonists, and we get a good balancing look at their private lives and issues, which help make it all seem more real. This is especially useful in dealing with the relationship between Will and Helen – and it is interesting that John Harvey does keep a bit of tension there. The use of Lesley as an investigator, not of the police but with key reasons, experience and relationships to help move the process forward, is an interesting device. It will be interesting to see if John Harvey takes these characters anywhere other than a passing reference in future books.

Gone to Ground by John Harvey, published in paperback by Arrow (2008), ISBN: 9780099489962

See the Wikipedia entry on John Harvey.

Other books by John Harvey:

Charlie Resnick series – Lonely Hearts (1989), Rough Treatment (1990), Cutting Edge (1991), Off Minor (1992), Wasted Years (1993), Cold Light (1994), Living Proof (1995), Easy Meat (1996), Still Water (1997), Last Rites (1998), Now’s the Time (short stories) 1999, Trouble in Mind (novella) (2007), Cold in Hand (2008).

Frank Elder series – Flesh and Blood (2004), Ash and Bone (2005), Darkness and Light (2006)

Other books – In A True Light (2001)

Review: Suffer the Little Children by Donna Leon

6 April 2008

Donna Leon has been writing about Commissario Brunetti since 1992. Over the period since then the books have addressed particular issues through the Commissario’s investigation of the crime that provides the focus for each book, in the case of Suffer the Little Children it is the issue of illegal adoptions and the fate of the children involved. Alongside the action, Commissario Brunetti observes and ruminates and eats, while his own life with his wife Paola and his two children, by now nearly grown up, provides a counterpoint and balance. Of course, and like any fictional policeman, he has his regular sidekicks, Vianello and Elletra Zorzi, the boss’s secretary who is able to crack any computer system and database, and a boss he is at odds with, the questionable Patta.

In Suffer the Little Children, there are two story lines that come together at the end. The Carabinieri (not Brunelli’s lot) undertake a dawn raid on a pediatrician who has an illegally adopted son, beating him up in the process. Meanwhile, Vianello is pursuing what looks like a fraud against the system by pharmacists and doctors conspiring to make claims for phantom specialist appointments. The action seems to meander over time and at one stage involves Brunelli and Signorina Elletra pretending to be a couple with fertility problems. In the meantime, and in the background, influence is being brought to bear (this is Italy) and the charges against the pediatrician are reduced to a manageable minimum – but he has still lost the son he now loves dearly. On the other case, it turns out that pharmacists have been misusing the system, and this has been made possible by their access to medical records, which leads us to the coming together of the story lines. In the end, not a lot of justice seems to have been done, and the people concerned are unhappy or scarred. The enduring miasma of corruption continues, despite the efforts of Brunetti and his colleagues to tread a virtuous path down the mean streets – if that is possible in a city of canals.

This book give the impression of being a bit vague, in that the main action doesn’t seem to want to be with the plot or even really with the issue of illegal adoptions. Apart from patches of didacticism, the real subjects are food, Venice and the love of a parent for a child, and probably in that order. Brunelli seems to spend a lot of time thinking about and savouring food, and coffee. In this book, perhaps more so than some of its predecessors, both Brunelli and Elletra stop and look about at Venice and think how lucky they are to be part of this place. The art of Donna Leon is making us think the same thing.

Suffer the Little Children by Donna Leon, paperback published by Arrow (2008), ISBN: 9780099503224, see Wikipedia entry for Donna Leon.

Other books by Donna Leon – Death at La Fenice (1992), Death in a Strange Country (1993), The Anonymous Venetian (1994) aka Dressed for Death, A Venetian Reckoning (1995) aka Death and Judgment, Acqua Alta (1996) aka Death in High Water, The Death of Faith (1997) aka Quietly in Their Sleep, A Noble Radiance (1997), Fatal Remedies (1999), Friends in High Places (2000), A Sea of Troubles (2001), Wilful Behaviour (2002), Uniform Justice (2003), Doctored Evidence (2004), Blood from a Stone (2005), Through a Glass Darkly (2006), The Girl of His Dreams (2008).

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