a weekend’s mixed bag of reading…

Strange weather here in Dunedin this weekend – really hot on Friday, about 28c, with gusty winds and then waking up on Saturday morning to snow on the hills was surreal – then there was torrential rain – so, excellent reading weather really.  Some of my reading was excellent too but some, yeah, not so much…

I read some Scandi (s)crime: Swedish writer Mons Kallentoft’s Autumn Killing is the third in his series set in Linkoping (after Midwinter Sacrifice and Summertime Death – we are way behind the Swedish publications, Savage Spring (May 2010),The Fifth Season (June 2011) and Water Angels (August 2012) haven’t been released in English yet) and featuring the clever, flawed, very human Superintendent Malin Fors, as a number of reviews have pointed out, this male author has created a very believable female protagonist.

I really like this series, it is so well written, the crimes are gripping and puzzling, the plots are complex, the characters are great and Kallentoft has a concern for social issues that makes me think of Henning Mankell. Interestingly the victims have a voice in the novels, thinking about their lives and commenting on the investigation into their deaths – which sounds like it shouldn’t work but it actually does.

The often oppressive weather of each season adds to the sense of menace, it is not just people who are dangerous in Linkoping. There are a couple of mysteries running through the series – something very odd is going on with the relationship between Malin and her parents who now live in Tenerife and Malin keeps returning to the files of a vicious crime whose victim has been in a catatonic state since before the events related in Midwinter Sacrifice. This is very different from much of the crime fiction that has come out of Scandinavia recently and worth a look if you like good crime writing.

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I also read Oliver Sacks’ new book Hallucinations. It was very interesting, and the now 80ish Sacks is still just as fascinated by the human brain and its peculiarities as he ever was. As usual, it is Sacks’ own openness and humanity about his subject that draws you in and makes you curious too – and the letters from sufferers (perhaps ‘experiencers’ is a better word for some of these people) he quotes are intriguing and mysterious – like the hallucinations themselves.

Sacks explores the fundamental differences and similarities of the many different sorts of hallucinations, what they say about the organization and structure of our brains, how they have influenced every culture’s folklore and art, and why the potential for hallucination is present in us all.

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I wasn’t so captivated by William Kuhn’s debut novel Mrs Queen Takes the Train. A bit fed up with life, the queen, sorry, The Queen, wanders off by herself to Edinburgh to visit the retired Royal Yacht Britannia. Her dresser, a lady-in-waiting, a butler, her equerry, a groom from the Mews, a posh cheese-shop assistant all swing into action to get her back. So far, so farce.

Mixed in with the stuff about protocol, and the contrasts between Inside and Outside the Palace are a couple of odd storylines about post-traumatic stress disorder (the equerry has come back from Iraq), the place of immigrants in the UK (the posh cheese-shop assistant went to Eton, his wealthy Indian grandparents arrived in the UK after WWII, he still gets called ‘Paki’) and the love that dare not speak its name either in the army (the equerry) or in the Palace (the butler).

You can see what Kuhn is aiming for but it misses (so unlike Alan Bennett’s fabulous The Common Reader which is mentioned in this book), it was a weird, uneven, not very entertaining mess, and I gave up and skipped bits…

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