Alex Carr’s The Prince of Bagram Prison fits into the “absolute stunner” category. It has a complex structure, layering points of view, periods of time, and different settings, but doing it all with a sure hand and great artistry. It reminded me of John LeCarre with all the digressions trimmed, the pacing tightened, the simmering anger and the appreciation for the complexity of the world all there in spades. The ending is beautiful and heartbreaking. I reviewed it for Mystery Scene and think you should read it. Right now. Carr has also written some excellent books as Jenny Siler.
The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte was a challenging book. I had to learn to slow down, take the book at its own word, adjust to a highly visual perspective, and let the two characters – locked in a philosophical debate that happens to be leading up to a death – play their intellectual game. In the end, the book is a meditation on art and violence. Also reviewed for Mystery Scene.
As usual, book discussions are humming along at 4MA, and two of the most interesting books I’ve read in ages were under the microscope in the past month. Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast is an amazing book – a virtuoso performance, knitting together the aftermath of Norway’s Nazi occupation and a present–day killer. Though the first half is a bit confusing as we travel from the front lines outside Leningrad and to Austria in the past, switching off with present-day events involving neo-Nazis and an assassination plot, not always presented in chronological order, things take an emotional turn halfway through and the end is a wild gallop of a page-turner. But most of all, it is a wonderfully illuminating look at a troubled part of Norway’s past. Absolutely brilliant.
I also very much enjoyed Adrian Hyland’s Diamond Dove, released here in the US under the title Moonlight Downs. The story is told with a wonderful fresh voice of a mixed-race young woman raised at the fault line between Aboriginal and “whitefeller” culture. The plot takes a back seat to the interactions of the vivid characters, the unfolding of cultural misunderstandings, and the sheer, rugged beauty of a desert place that carries so much spiritual connection for those who have a traditional bond to the place. Very interesting book, and our discussion was much enhanced by Adrian joining in to round out our understanding – because it is as Australian as Vegemite, but much tastier for foreign pallets.