Saturday, 23 February 2013


MORE GREAT READS FOR FEBRUARY, 2013

Leader of the pack, by David Rosenfelt
Mr Rosenfelt is a very funny man.  He is also a dog-lover, and in each of his novels about Andy Carpenter, sometime defense lawyer (Andy  is a wealthy man;  he can please himself when he works –why did I never have this choice!),  Andy’s high regard for Man’s Best Friend is such that he clearly trusts dogs more than people, and rightly so:  dogs never let their best friends down, nor do they betray them.  Ever.
In fact, the boot is frequently on the other foot.  Fortunately, Andy and his friend Willie Miller run an animal shelter, caring for and re-homing stray dogs. He has his own beloved dog at the home he shares with his wife Laurie, and life would be very satisfactory if it were not for the bad guys he is forced to meet in the course of his work – and some of them are very bad indeed.
This is the tenth Andy Carpenter thriller, (see July, 2011 review below) and Mr Rosenfelt’s books are rescued from being formulaic by the credible plots, GREAT characters – Andy’s long-time friends are a delight – and sound research.  He writes about what he knows – and he knows a lot.
In this latest novel, Andy is disquieted by the fact that, six years ago, he lost a case in which his client Joe DeSimone was imprisoned by a jury for a double murder:  he is convinced of Joe’s innocence and it rankles terribly that Joe is in jail for life – purely because he has the misfortune to be the son of one of the big New Jersey Mafia bosses.  Andy feels that the sins of the father have been visited upon the innocent son, but it is not until new information reveals itself from an entirely unexpected source that he can start gathering enough evidence to petition for a new trial.  And you’ll never guess whodunit in a month of Sundays!  Well, I didn’t anyway.  Yep, there is a very satisfying little twist to the plot here, guaranteed to fool all but the Superhuman among us:  Mr. Rosenfelt’s writing is pure entertainment right to the last page – even his page of acknowledgements is unique.  He states that he had stopped thanking various friends several books back because he had been accused of name-dropping, but had decided to resume his ‘thankyou’ page because ‘like it or not, I move among the stars, and I’m not afraid to admit it’.
Here are a selection of names dropped:
Barack Obama, David, Butch and Hopalong Cassidy, Kim Jung Il, the entire Jung Il family, Daniel and Jenny Craig, Albert Schweitzer, Anne and Barney Frank, Harrison and Betty Ford, Vladimir Putin, Aretha and Benjamin Franklin, Charlie Sheen, Charlie Chan, Hannibal and Sally Lechter (Oh, sorry, I couldn’t resist, that’s one of mine!) Bruce, Spike and Robert E. Lee,  Neil and Hope Diamond.
The man’s incorrigible!  And mighty good fun.

  
Dog Tags, by David Rosenfelt
And now for something completely different!  Something for the readers who just want to be entertained, to NOT have to contemplate the huge questions of life, the universe and everything:  this is YOUR book, and what an unmitigated pleasure it is; a really good legal thriller combined with enough humour to carry us on to the next Rosenfelt opus (for this is a series) and to hope that Mr. Rosenfelt keeps the jokes – and the suspense coming.  True to form, I have come in on the fifth or sixth title in the adventures of Andy Carpenter, defence lawyer extraordinaire.  It irritates me immeasurably to realize this after I have started a book;  I like to start things FROM THE BEGINNING!  Well, never mind:  I have started to trawl back through the series to the start, and one thing that Andy can be counted on is to be perpetually smart-mouthed in a really death-defying way, to solve the current mystery, and to get rid of all the bad guys – oh, and he’s an unashamed dog-lover:  what’s not to admire?  And Mr. Rosenfelt’s dialogue had me breathless with admiration:  one of Andy’s friends knows absolutely everyone:  ‘You wanna meet the Dalai Lama?  Well, I don’t know him but I know his sister, Shirley Lama.  I could arrange a meeting.’  I  wish I’d thought of that, and I’m still trying to figure out how to introduce it as all mine in future conversations.  Hasn’t happened yet!

The Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Mr Ruiz Zafon is the author of the huge best-seller ‘The Shadow of the Wind’, first published to international acclaim in 2001. 
In 1949, the novel’s main protagonist, Daniel Sempere, son of a Barcelona bookseller, is taken by his father to the Cemetery for Forgotten Books, the last resting place in a surreal setting of thousands and thousands of titles and presided over by Isaac Montfort, its curator.  He is permitted to choose one title to take home with him and he selects ‘The Shadow of the Wind’.  That book launches him on an adventure that sweeps him and the reader up in a torrent of  mysteries within mysteries, stories within stories and suspense of the most nail-biting kind.
In 2009, Mr Ruiz Zafon launched a Prequel of sorts, ‘’The Angel’s Game’, again set in Barcelona, this time in the 1920’s and concerning David Martin, a young pulp writer of serialised dime novels for a minor publishing house:  his problems start when he agrees to write a novel on a particular subject for a mysterious publisher who may – or may not – be the devil.  It is entirely possible that David is writing to save his soul as well as his life.  Once again mystery pervades everything and the suspense generated effortlessly by Mr Ruiz Zafon bespeaks his superb literary skill.
Now we have ‘The Prisoner of Heaven’.  The year is 1956;  Daniel Sempere has wed his great love Beatriz and they have a son, Julian, named after Julian Carax, author of ‘The Shadow of the Wind’.  All would be well were it not for the fact that the bookshop’s takings are well down, and Daniel’s best friend in all the world, Fermin Romero de Torres (not his real name!) appears to have huge worries which are causing him weight loss and sleepless nights.  Fermin swears it is not the fact of his impending nuptials causing his big drop in suit size, but after a visit to the bookshop by a mysterious and decrepit stranger enquiring of his whereabouts, he becomes more anxious than ever, and finally confesses some of his worries – and his history – to Daniel.
In 1940 Fermin was imprisoned for espionage activities against the fascist government of Franco in the notorious Montjuic Castle, an impregnable mountain fortress and prison looming over Barcelona.  His eventual escape was engineered by none other than David Martin, hero of ‘The Angel’s Game’ now known as the Prisoner of Heaven and kept alive by Maurizio Valls, the governor of the prison, solely to  write stories that Valls, a literary snob and poseur wishes to pass as his own.
As with each preceding book, the plot has more twists and turns than a pretzel, not to mention a huge cast list of characters, all of whom appear or disappear over the course of the three stories;  it is not easy to keep everyone in their correct order and readers can be forgiven for thinking on occasion that they are embroiled in a fruity melodrama flavoured with dashes of magic realism:  having said that, the reader also must appreciate the wonderful characterisations:  Fermin is a master of wit and dialectics, not to mention a fab dancer,  and Daniel’s courage and idealism ring entirely true.  And Barcelona – ah, Barcelona, that pearl of culture on the east coast of Spain, Colombus pointing to America in one direction and Las Ramblas, that great boulevard, proceeding in the other.  No other author could love a place more, or write more lovingly of the great Catalan city than Mr Ruiz Zafon.  He writes of Barcelona with real magic, and makes it all magically real.  And there is more to come:  the third book ends with many unanswered questions and promises of revenge, making sure that this reader will be champing at the bit to return to the bookshop of Sempere and Sons in #4, hoping for thrilling answers.  I know I won’t be disappointed.            

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