So, I continue with my self-imposed task, started last week:Now that The Times has made its online content subscription-only, I thought I might provide readers of this blog with a regular update of books reviewed in the Saturday Review section, which I read in print each weekend (usually Sunday morning). I don't subscribe to the online version of the paper, though I do buy and read the print edition each day except Sunday.
The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill (HarperCollins, £17.99 - a publisher owned by the publisher of the Times). This is an "outstanding novel of force and beauty", according to the reviewer. The plot sounds very convoluted, about a business tycoon and "vengeance, betrayal, sexual obsession, fraud, espionage, miscarriage of justice, pornography, many deaths, dysfunctional English families and a black woman prison psychiatrist". Sounds a rich mix (and I wonder why the colour of the psychiatrist was mentioned?). The verdict of the Times reviewer: "far fetched and the characters a touch exaggerated, but Hill's elegant writing, erudition and imagination make such reservations seem petty."
Lifeblood, by N. J. (previously Natasha) Cooper (Pocket books, £7.99), is the second book to feature forensic psychologist Karen Taylor. I reviewed the first in the series, No Escape, for Euro Crime. In this novel, Taylor believes a recently released prisoner will reoffend, and is proved right (and her superiors wrong). "Excellent tension, and convincing psychology, especially about the power relationships between rapists and their victims" writes Marcel Berlins.
Bank of the Black Sheep by Robert Lewis (Serpent's Tail, £7.99) is the third of a trilogy (I have a copy of it, kindly sent by the publisher, but had not realised it is part of a trilogy). It's said by the Times to be "viciously funny...for the goodish reason that the Welsh private eye is soon to die of cancer........bleak, witty, engaging, curiously moving and an absolute delight to read."
In keeping with my fascinated horror with the "Saturday Review" overall, I'll briefly mention the composition of the rest. Two whole pages of an extract from "Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor", being republished 40 years on. I have to say I was absorbed by this extract from the book that inspired Mad Men (the author is an advisor on the series) - even though I began watching Mad Men series 1 some time ago but could not bear to continue with it after the first few episodes. I just could not bear to watch the way women were treated in those days, even though I realised it was satire, and very beautiful, and all that. It just made me sick, sorry. The book does look good on the basis of what was in the Times, though my experience of buying books on the basis of extracts is that the extract is the best bit (often by a long way).
There is a whole-page article about Louise Bagshawe, author of "women's commercial fiction" (a.k.a. chick lit) and now a Tory MP; two pages about ugly architecture and Milton Keynes, archetypal ugly town ("born ugly" I always think); a Q/A with TV starlet Honeysuckle Weeks, late of Foyle's War (another failed experiment of mine) and about to attempt Eliza Doolittle on stage; a double-page spread of pop record covers; and an interview of a woman doing for Italy what Peter Mayle did for Provence (or trying to).
The main book review of the week is that of midget Peter Mandelson's memoir, as if Times readers aren't sick to death of him (if they weren't already) after three days of extensive extracts taking up pages of the main paper (including the entire front page twice), followed by two days of more pages taken up with hypocritical shock at how upset the Labour party is at what he said in it. I ask you - who wouldn't be upset at the way the Times presented the contents of the book? (Publisher again is HarperCollins, say no more.) A couple of interesting books are reviewed, one about China's population and another a novel about the discovery of Pluto. A couple of "Gothic" children's books are briefly reviewed - White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick and The Glass Demon by Helen Grant. In the various little brief blurbs scattered among all this is one by (?) Tess Gerritsen, who is asked what she's currently into in this week's "they're reading" column. She picks "The Man Who Invented History: Travels with Herodotus", a travel memoir by Justin Marozzi, who followed the same journeys as his subject. "I've long been obsessed with Herodotus", writes Tess Gerritsen - whose latest book has just been published in the UK, as noted in the column (not published by HarperCollins, though).