The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

“Armageddon was yesterday, today we have a serious problem.”  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

“Armageddon was yesterday, today we have a serious problem.” The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I finally gave in and read this book after resisting for quite a while.  It seemed everybody I spoke to had recommended it and I kind of backed away, thinking after all that hype I’d only be disappointed.  I’m happy to say I wasn’t. I was hooked straight away.

The basic storyline is this: an old man (Henrik Vanger) has been receiving strange birthday cards from his grand-niece who has been missing, presumed dead for 40 odd years.  Before he dies he wants to know what happened to her and so he hires Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative magazine publisher to investigate the case. After a while, Blomkvist realises he needs an assistant and so hires Lisbeth Salander – an expert computer hacker.  Ok, so the basic premise is a bit of a whodunit – a classic investigation story into a shadowy family history. I’VE HEARD A LOT ABOUT THIS SALANDER, WHAT’S SHE LIKE?

The Sign Of Four – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock's second outing

Sherlock’s second outing

This is the second Holmes and Watson book and, once again follows them as they unofficially investigate a murder.  The book begins with them idly killing time, eating, reading and, in Holmes’ case, shooting up.  That is, until they are approached by Mary Morstan (the future Mrs Watson.)  She is hoping to find out what happened to her father, who disappeared 10 years before. Also, she has mysteriously been receiving pearls in the post, one each year, with the most recent one requesting a meeting.

This meeting leads the trio to Thaddeus Shalto, who in turn, takes them to see his brother Bartholemeo who, it turns out, has been murdered.  So far so twisty- turny.  Holmes uses his genius to work out the identity of the killers, and also how to apprehend them.  The only thing left to wrap up is why they would kill Bartholomeo.  This explanation is provided by way of a confession, involving a story dating back 30 years to the East India Company, the Indian mutiny of 1857 and life in the prison camps and the islands.

This was where the story becomes slightly uncomfortable, referring to the natives as ‘savages’, with ‘distorted features’ and being ‘naturally hideous’.  This is a totally unacceptable, ignorant view nowadays, but taken in the context of the book, and the characters using these descriptions, it sort of works.  These are the kind of people who would use these descriptions, so I didn’t find it as jarring as I could have done.

Once again, the story is nicely wrapped up, with Holmes providing answers where the police were lacking. (I quite like this theme throughout the novels), Watson is provided with some romance and Holmes is developed much further as a character than in A Study In Scarlet. His motivations, mental state and addictions are all explored deeper, revealing a truly great literary character.

Sample Text:

“My mind,” he said, “rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world.”

Further Reading:

If you liked the descriptions of the Indian Mutiny you might like The Siege of Krishnapur

If you like Holmes and Watson you might like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

The Woman In White - The first detective novel?

The Woman In White – The first detective novel?

This is another of those books I only read because it’s on the BBC Big Read List (2010), but I’m glad I did read it.  It’s kind of a Victorian gothic mystery drama and has one of the best baddies of any book I’ve read in Count Fosco.  He’s so deliciously charmingly evil I can’t help liking him a bit.

The story begins as Walter Hartright is employed as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie (a ‘live-in’ art tutor if you please – gives some indication of the kind of wealth these characters have!)  They soon fall in love, but Laura is betrothed to Sir Percival Glyde.  When a mysterious woman in white starts appearing, and leaves a letter for Laura, warning her away from Glyde, it is up to the detective skills of Hartright to figure out who this mystery woman is and what she wants.

It’s quite a long book and you’ll need to invest some time in reading it, but I would recommend this above a lot of ‘classic’ literature.  It’s credited as one of the first ever detective novels and I think a lot more happens in this than other Victorian stories, which can be a bit long and worthy sometimes.

Collins had a background in legal training and, as such, this novel is told from many angles as a court case would be.  Some of the accounts contradict each other and so, we the readers are left trying to work out who is a reliable witness to events and who is self-serving. (Don’t worry; it all becomes clear in the end).  This makes for an interesting concept as it requires some input from the reader, as if perhaps we are the jury in this case.

Sample text:

“Not the shadow of a doubt crossed my mind of the purpose for which the Count had left the theatre. His escape from us, that evening, was beyond all question the preliminary only to his escape from London. The mark of the Brotherhood was on his arm—I felt as certain of it as if he had shown me the brand; and the betrayal of the Brotherhood was on his conscience—I had seen it in his recognition of Pesca.”

Further Reading:

If you like a good detective story you might like The Maltese Falcon

If you like a good gothic baddie you might like Frankenstein

If you like a good mystery thriller you might like The Shadow of the Wind

Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas - a bit too much like showing off for my liking

Cloud Atlas – a bit too much like showing off for my liking

Written in 2004, Cloud Atlas consists of six separate stories that span the centuries, ranging from the 19th century to a distant post-apocalyptic future.  The first five stories all are interrupted at a crucial moment and, after the sixth story reaches its conclusion, we return to the first five in reverse chronological order, ending back in the 19th century (Still with me?)

Each story is written in a different style to the previous one.  Whilst I think this is a great skill, it also seemed a bit like showing off to me.  The first four stories I found entertaining enough, but by the fifth and sixth I got rather bored and impatient to return to the fourth.

The first story is entitled The Pacific Diary of Adam Ewing.  Slowly throughout this story, we see how it affects the central character in the second story, entitled Letters From Zedelghem. This story is all told in the form of Letters to and from Robert Frobisher. Again, in the third story (Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery) we see how Frobisher has affected the life of Luisa Rey.  This story is a mystery thriller set in California.

The fourth story is a daft British comedy, The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish.  In this, the protagonist reads a book about Luisa Rey, thereby linking him to the grand scheme of things.  From here, things get futuristic, with the fifth story about a dystopian future and a slave called Sonmi-451.  To my mind, this story is too futuristic, with too much jargon and goes on far too long.  Sonmi-451 watches a film about Timothy Cavendish which is how she links in to the book.

Lastly is Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After.  This is even more distant future after some terrible event known simply as ‘the fall’.  Humans are once again reduced to primitivism and worship a goddess called, yep you guessed it, Sonmi.

Cloud Atlas is quite a challenging book to read.  As the stories jump around I found it didn’t really hold my attention, which has been one of the biggest criticisms of it.  However, it has mostly received praise and positive reviews so I’m willing to accept it’s a good book, but only about half of it was to my taste.

Sample Text:

“To enslave an individual troubles your consciences, Archivist, but to enslave a clone is no more troubling than owning the latest six-wheeler ford, ethically. Because you cannot discern our differences, you assume we have none. But make no mistake: even same-stem fabricants cultured in the same wombtank are as singular as snowflakes.”   from An Orison of Sonmi-451.

“I elbowed my way into the grubby café, bought a pie that tasted of shoe polish and a pot of tea with cork crumbs floating in it, and eavesdropped on a pair of Shetland pony breeders. Despondency makes one hanker after lives one never led. Why have you given your life to books, TC? Dull, dull, dull! The memoirs are bad enough, but all that ruddy fiction! Hero goes on a journey, stranger comes to town, somebody wants something, they get it or they don’t, will is pitted against will. “Admire me, for I am a metaphor.” from The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish.

Further Reading:

If you liked the dystopian future you might like 1984

If you like the detective mystery thriller you might like The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon.  Pulp fiction at it's best

The Maltese Falcon. A good ol’ dose of pulp fiction.

Private detective Sam Spade and his partner Miles Archer are hired by Miss Wonderly to trail a man, Floyd Thursby who has allegedly ran off with their client’s sister.  When Spade receives a phone call informing him that Archer has been killed, and then Thursby also he finds himself the police’s chief suspect.

What ensues is Spade’s attempts to solve this case.  Is Miss Wonderly who she claims to be?  Who was Floyd Thursby really?  Who is Joel Cairo, who arrives in Spade’s office offering $5,000 for the acquisition of a bird figurine? And what is the value of this ‘Maltese falcon’?

I don’t want to spoil the story by discussing any of these questions, but suffice to say, this is a good old-fashioned private detective who-dunnit story.  Ok so the characters are not especially believable, stereo-typed as they are, but that doesn’t matter here, this isn’t supposed to make you think.  There’s no deeper meaning to these characters, it’s all just for entertainment purposes.  And for that, it’s great.

Sample Text:

“Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of
his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were
horizontal. The V motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down–from high flat temples–in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond Satan.”

Further Reading:

If you like the pulp fiction genre you might like The Book With No Name

If you like a who-dunnit you might like The Girl With A Dragon tattoo

If you like a mystery story you might like Rebecca

A Study In Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study In Scarlet - the first Sherlock Holmes novel

A Study In Scarlet – the first Sherlock Holmes novel

Whilst trying to tick books off from my BBC Big Read list I decided to read the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  After reading the first few paragraphs it became clear that I was attempting to read the stories out of sequence.  This just won’t do for my petty mind so I went straight online and downloaded the complete Sherlock Holmes for the bargain price of nothing.

A Study in Scarlet is the first Holmes novel and is narrated from the beginning by Watson, following their first encounter, subsequent friendship and sleuthing work.  I rather liked the way that Watson seemed quite baffled throughout by Holmes eccentricity, not to mention his morphine and cocaine addictions.  This aspect was one I wasn’t expecting and made the story seemed a lot fresher than I’d anticipated.

I’ve always enjoyed a good detective story and this is a good’un, but all of a sudden it transplants itself over to Mormon territory, U.S of A.  What’s all that about?  Turns out, it’s explaining the back story to the crime, but whilst it’s an interesting account, I kind of missed Holmes and Watson a bit.

Obviously I won’t say much of the crime they’re investigating or the outcome, but there’s a body, some footprints, one word written on the wall and a wedding ring involved.  Suffice to say, it’s all wrapped up very nicely at the end.  Well it had to be didn’t it?

One of these days I’ll get round to reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in the meantime, the next in the sequence is The Sign Of The Four.

Sample Text:

“By a man’s finger-nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boots, by his trouser-knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt-cuff — By each of these things a man’s calling is plainly revealed. That all united should fail to enlighten the competent inquirer in any case is almost inconceivable. You know that a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick; and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all.”

Further Reading:

If you like Holmes and Watson you may like The Sign Of Four

If you like a good old fashioned detective story you might like The Woman In White