Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Elephant Keepers’ Children, by Peter Høeg

‘Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow’ (as it was known in this part of the world) was the novel that launched Peter Høeg’s international reputation in 1992;  it was a worldwide bestseller, a fascinating thriller, a mystery on many levels, and the subject of a successful movie several years later:  now, Mr Hoeg travels a different road.
Peter, Tilte and Hans are the teenage children of the Pastor of a picturesque Danish island celebrated for its tourism – and the eccentricities of some of its locals, all of whom are gifted (or not) with some very unusual names, because the island of Finø has long been known as a place to which all races are welcome;  in fact, the more exotic the better, and all of those races have brought their names.
Pretty Tilte’s one true love is called Jakob Aquinas Bordurio Madsen;  he has broken her heart because he claims to have heard an inner voice ordering him to forsake the secular life and become a Catholic Priest.  Hans falls in love with Ashanti from Haiti, a renowned trance dancer (don’t ask!) and thrilling religious vocalist.  Peter, at 14 the youngest sibling, has lost his heart to Conny (the only one in the entire story with a normal name), a fellow student who shares his feelings – until after a series of lucky coincidences, she is whisked away by her mother to be a child star of stage and screen in Copenhagen. 
The local colour also extends to Bermuda Seagull Jansson, Finø’s combination midwife and undertaker:  she can hatch, AND dispatch!  Then we have Count Rickardt Three Lions, fabulously rich former heroin addict, who is now the owner of the local Rehab Centre.  Bodil Hippopotamus is a flinty-eyed undercover police officer;  and Pallas Athene is a two-metre-tall Dominatrix with a propensity for road rage when she is behind the wheel of her red Jag.  And these are but a few of the cavalcade of the strange and wonderful who aid the three siblings in the search for their parents – on the surface such pillars of the community, supposedly on their annual holiday to the Canary Islands, but in reality planning the biggest jewel heist in Danish history.
Their children have already had a taste of Mum and Dad’s less than religious activities two years before, when the parents returned from the Canaries with a Maserati and a mink coat:  highly suspicious, especially as most of the Danish police force thought so, too.  It was touch and go for a while but in the absence of proof of the insurance theft of which they were suspected, the rectory and its occupants were still all together;  Mum and Dad escaped prison by a whisker and the children weren’t condemned to separate children’s homes.
And that is at the crux of Peter Høeg’s zany, laugh-out-loud comic novel, overflowing as it is with unbelievable characters and Keystone Cops pursuits:  the fear within us all of losing our security;  our loved ones;  our WORLD, and the lengths to which we will go to preserve it.  Highly recommended – if you can stand the pace!

The Boyfriend, by Thomas Perry
At the risk of destroying my own credibility, I have to caution you, dear reader, NOT TO BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ IN BOOK REVIEWS!  Especially in really flash, reputable, long-established American newspapers.  I am enormously disappointed in the above author, especially as I was led to believe by the illustrious reviewer that I was in for a white-knuckle ride, and the speed wasn’t going to slacken until the last page was turned.
What a load of old rubbish!  We never get beyond walking pace in Mr. Perry’s story.  He is the respected author of twenty one previous thrillers, several of which have won prizes – the dust jacket tells us that so it must be true; therefore I am mystified to know why a writer of obvious experience should produce such a pedestrian tale.
So, here we go:
Jack Till, a Private Investigator and retired homicide Detective is hired by the parents of a young murder victim.  It was revealed to them after her death that she was an escort, and the police, after an initial investigation have come to the conclusion that she was murdered and robbed by one of her ‘clients’.  Her case has been put on the back burner;  the police have more important crimes to pursue.  This is not good enough for the young woman’s grieving parents.  They want answers so Jack is hired with an upfront payment of one hundred thousand dollars, to find out what the police have not.
After several desultory chapters, we learn that more young escorts have died in different cities, all of similar appearance, and just before a major murder of a public figure:  gracious moi, could these crimes be linked, do you think?  Of course they are - to Joey Moreland, a handsome, charming young sociopath who moves in on the various escorts as a way of lying low until he makes the hit, then he takes them out, too – but usually when they are not looking:  after all, they have been good to him, putting him up and all, not to mention providing free professional services.  It’s nothing personal, but he really can’t leave any girl alive who knows what he looks like.
Thereafter the novel is involved in Jack’s dogged search for Joey, and I have to say I have no idea why I stuck with this book and its two-dimensional characters to the bitter end.  I can only assume it was because I wanted Illustrious Reviewer to be right, but she flamingwell wasn’t!  In actual fact, her review was a whole lot better than the book, whatever that may signify:  maybe she should find a story more worthy of her reviewing skills, or go back to her knitting.  And I won't be so quick to take her at her word in future, so there.     

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