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The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud
The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud
by Andrew Hurley
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.50
240 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Terrible Drag, March 21, 2011
Yet another Spanish romp is Julia Navarro's The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud. Just when you thought you were safe from the Knights Templar, here they return, as heroic in fiction as they have been derided in history. This is yet another silly historical-thriller-joining-the-Dan-Brown-wagon. Why drag the Templars and their rituals into modern fiction? Surely there's enough history in Europe to consider dreaming up a fresh conspiracy? Arturo Perez-Reverte did very well in the genre (see his The Flanders Panel, e.g.) but his successors are lumpen and unimaginative. This book is particularly terrible. The Shroud of Turin, widely accepted to be a medieval fraud, still commands considerable reverence among Catholics. What is its history? Well, you won't learn it from this novel. Instead, Navarro posits yet another secret organisation, based in Edessa (modern-day Urfa), the first Christian city, and trying desperately to get the shroud back. A bunch of Templars are holding them off. What! you cry. Templars? Surely they died off after Philip the Fair butchered them in the 1300s? Oh no. They continued to lead clandestine but powerful lives in Scotland from where they guided mankind's history in the ensuing centuries. The story? When a part of the Turin cathedral is set ablaze and men with no fingerprints or tongues are found lying dead in the rubble, the Arts Crime department of the Italian police is called to investigate. Among the investigators is your usual brilliant and insanely beautiful woman (who, of course, doesn't realise either her brilliance or her beauty). She is shacked up with a plodding cop in her group, much to everyone's surprise. She traces the history of the Shroud, meets sundry people who may or may not be Templars, is particularly struck by the presence and charisma of one of them, and decides that the plodding cop is not good enough for her anymore. It says much for a historical novel when the most interesting part of its story is really the most inconsequential. Anyway. There is a conspiracy as ridiculous as you'd like, and despite the heroics of the Edessans, they are clearly bumbling idiots who can locate their noses with less facility than they can recover the shroud. Which, when you come to think of it, is not even really the Shroud of Christ.


The Gaudi Key: A Novel
The Gaudi Key: A Novel
by Esteban Martín
Edition: Hardcover
17 used & new from $1.98

1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible stuff, March 21, 2011
This review is from: The Gaudi Key: A Novel (Hardcover)
We've had conspiracies involving Dante, the Templars, the Turin Shroud. What do we have left? How about Gaudi's lollypop of a Cathedral, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona? Clearly there are tales within tales in that concoction! The man himself died under mysterious circumstances, but not so mysterious that a bit of spiritual conspiracy can't be adduced. And so we have The Gaudi Key by those Catalans, Esteban Martin and Andreu Carranza, where it turns out Gaudi was the master of seven knights sworn to protect some relic or the other from the depredations of Chaos, better known as the Corbel, who are determined to consign the planet into anarchy. One wonders then, why they limit themselves to what is essentially a provincial backwater. Why not London? Or Tokyo? Or even Paris? Why Barcelona? At any rate, Gaudi bequeathed the secret of the relic to a little chap, who decades later is falling into senility, and bequeaths it to his granddaughter. She is no ordinary woman, of course. In her will converge spiritual continua, and she'll lead us all into a bright future where the evil ones will be obliterated. But she can't do it all by herself so she needs her Fields Medal winning boyfriend to help. (How many Fields Medallists do you know that are good-looking, incredibly fit, socially ept and brilliant fencing champions to boot? Still, it's good to see a mathematician do something other than push his thick glasses onto his bushy eyebrows quoting theorems and twitching.) There's a lot of hokum in this novel, and would you believe it, the Templars make an entrance here as well. I guess some of the figurative puzzles in Gaudi's architecture have been put to good use in the book, and a visitor to Barcelona armed with the book may have some fun identifying them. Scarce recompense for plowing through nearly 500 pages of drivel, though.


In Praise of Lies
In Praise of Lies
by Patrícia Melo
Edition: Paperback
9 used & new from $3.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Funny but rather rambling Brazilian Noir, March 21, 2011
This review is from: In Praise of Lies (Paperback)
If one accepts the thesis that pulp fiction addresses the needs of the newly literate who progress to more 'literary' forms as they grow increasingly comfortable and sophisticated with reading, it would be clear that in developing countries like Brazil, cheap and cheerful dime novels would be extremely popular. In this darkly satirical book 'In Praise of Lies' Patricia Melo does not address the consumers of this inexpensive literature; rather, she prefers to poke fun at the industry that supplies it. So we have Jose Gruber, a hack who copies the plots from greats of world literature and passes on the texts to a publisher who is unaware of Dickens and Dostoevsky; the readership doesn't know or care either. Jose falls in with a herpetologist, Melissa, who, unaware of his inspiration, believes that his is a fertile imagination. She then involves him in concocting clever plots of kill her husband, who she claims abuses her, and Jose is such a moral and physical coward that he ends up helping her. The stress results in his literary career stalling, with the publisher rejecting proposal after proposal (which lengthen in proportion to his desperation) as unworkable and uninteresting. The noirish aspects of the novel might have served to keep the plot ticking, but Melo is dissatisfied with satirising only the pulp industry and she switches her target to the self-help books that also attract a wide readership in Brazil. Between the crime committed and the unravelling of Melissa's and Jose's relationship, and his sudden success as a hack self-help author, there are suddenly too many threads in the novel, and it all gets increasingly inchoate. While the book started funny and clever, it appears towards the end as if Melo loses the plot herself. Worth a casual read, certainly.


The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction
The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction
by Rakesh Khanna
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.16
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely if uneven collection of Tamil pulp, March 21, 2011
This is a rather uneven collection of crime fiction, sci-fi, satire, social commentary. There are two or three absolute sparklers, but the rest are somewhat pedestrian and obvious. I loved the brilliant wit and repartee of Pattukotai Prabakaran's `Sweetheart, Please Die' and the innuendo and bonhomie of Subha's `Hurricane Vaij', which were possibly the best stories in the book. Some of the stories are overtly preachy - offering a defence of a woman's sexual rights, say, or urging honesty in a politician - and some involve mad scientists and that old favourite of Indian films, reincarnation and revenge. I guess this is not surprising: they must appeal to the lowest denominator, and so become obvious and forced. Still, it's heartening to see that the remarkably prodigious authors of the stories (some of whom have written thousands of tales and novellas) are often capable of superb and sophisticated imagination, refusing to pander to the base, and, fortunately for us, Pritham Chakravarthy has located several gems of the genre, and published them here.


Pythagorean Crimes
Pythagorean Crimes
by Tefcros Michaelides
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.32
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Crime Thriller with Mathematics, Picasso and Logic, March 21, 2011
This review is from: Pythagorean Crimes (Paperback)
Being obvious is possibly the worst comment a reader can make on a crime novel, but what is obvious to one person may be opaque to another. In Tefcros Michaelides's Pythagorean Crimes, the twist at the end depends for its surprise entirely on whether the reader knows the history of mathematics or not. The plot is rather straightforward - a Greek mathematician is found murdered and his best friend (the narrator) looks back on his career, hoping to find clues to his death in his past. The description of this past is possibly the weakest part of the book: Michaelides evidently believes that describing the excitement and fervour of early 20th century mathematics is insufficient to drive the book forward, so he throws in a long section on the development of modern art in the back alleys of Paris, introducing Picasso and his coterie, and claiming that Picasso's art was much informed by his own fascination for the foundations of logic. The plot hinges on an important question on the underlying consistency of mathematics, but surely it defies logic that the resolution to this question should verily be a life-and-death matter? An OK read.


Blood Safari
Blood Safari
by Deon Meyer
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
72 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Sexy, Action-packed South African Thriller, March 21, 2011
It's not often one hears of crime fiction from Africa that is written in a non-native language, although now that Afrikaans has been spoken in South Africa for close to 300 years, perhaps it is as native a tongue as any other. Deon Meyer is a successful author of thrillers set in that country, and he uses the medium to explore several unsavoury aspects of South African history. The nexus between the apartheid regime and the vastly influential military-industrial complex is reasonably well-known; what is perhaps less known is its constant interference in the affairs of neighbouring countries, either on the pretext of containing Communism, or to co-opt corrupt Black leaders of those countries. The story in Blood Safari is, as far as thrillers go, fairly faithful to the genre: a rich young woman thinks she has seen her long-dead brother on TV, her house is firebombed, she buys the services of a top-notch bodyguard (named Lemmer) who helps her in her search for her brother. Of course, the enemies are many and vicious, and when both get injured in an attack, Lemmer decides to go on the offensive himself. He is a man with a short fuse and can be indescribably vicious himself, so when the villains meet their comeuppance, they don't go gently into the unknown. Meyer throws in social commentary on present-day South Africa as well. There is corruption at higher levels that thwarts honest policemen, there are social schisms between the Afrikaners and the English-speakers; there is suspicion at every level between the blacks and whites; and there are tensions between the various nations of blacks, too, as they scramble for economic advancement and funding from an impoverished state. Underlying this all is a passionate cry to save Africa's wildlife as well, not just the popular creatures of tourist imagination, but also birds such as vultures that are held in such distaste by everyone.


Kick the Animal Out
Kick the Animal Out
by Adriana Hunter
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.03
25 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely study of a girl's search for her mother, March 21, 2011
This review is from: Kick the Animal Out (Paperback)
Véronique Ovaldé's Kick the Animal Out is a narrative from the viewpoint of a mentally-unbalanced girl desperate to locate her mother. This is an exploration of the lush mindscape of the fifteen year-old Rose who adores her mother and is baffled and upset by her father's seeming lack of anxiety when her mother vanishes. She seeks answers in her mother's past, uncovering details of old loves and past crimes. This is a slim book set in a sunny coast of France completely at odds with Rose's anguish, and it drags the reader into her world of 'immeasurable loss' more surely and heartbreakingly than weightier tomes by less assured writers. Well worth a read.


Cathedral of the Sea: A Novel
Cathedral of the Sea: A Novel
by Ildefonso Falcones
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.61
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4.0 out of 5 stars Moving but stereotyped tale of a man done good, March 21, 2011
One of the great canards of medieval life that have been promoted to outraged titillation in the world of entertainment is the putative droit du seigneur, the right of a feudal lord to bed the wives of his serfs on their wedding night. There is almost no evidence that such a right ever existed in law, though it is undeniable that serfs were abused and their wives very likely forced into granting sexual favours. Still, this is a favourite trope among writers of historical fiction (equally, directors of films set in the Middle Ages), and Ildefonso Falcones in his Cathedral of the Sea proves no different. Perhaps, though, we should believe Falcones - he is, after all, a lawyer himself, and he quotes Catalan legal documents (the Usatges) that purport to grant such rights. The novel, a sweeping history of the construction of the magnificent Cathedral of Santa María del Mar by indigent labourers as an act of love and devotion, starts with the violation of a woman on the night of her wedding. The story then follows the fortunes of the woman's husband, and then their son, against the background of the rise of Barcelona's maritime power. It is a gripping tale, incorporating miracles, internecine feuds, pogroms against Jews, naval battles, detailed explanations of construction techniques, sex and strife between diabolically devious women and inhumanly good men, envy between brothers, religious schisms, class struggles, and, if all this were not enough, the Inquisition. I'm well pleased with this, especially because there was nary a mention of the Templars.


The Pledge
The Pledge
by Friedrich Durrenmatt
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.15
61 used & new from $3.05

4.0 out of 5 stars Dark and Agonising Tale of a Detective's Destruction, March 21, 2011
This review is from: The Pledge (Paperback)
Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Pledge is a tale of the fall of a brilliant Swiss detective. The denouement is somewhat pat, but the analysis of the detective's psyche is very good. A little girl is savagely murdered and the detective makes a promise to her mother that he will find the killer. When a suspect is arrested and he subsequently commits suicide, everybody is satisfied that the case is closed, even the victim's parents. But the detective is not convinced, and against all evidence and in the face of his superiors' disapproval, he lays an intricate trap to catch the killer. He is so obsessed with this plan that he doesn't mind sacrificing everything he has - his reputation, his relationships, even his 'adopted' family - to fulfil his pledge. The plan fails and he loses his mind, and when the explanation arrives (a bit contrived), it is far too late to save the detective. This is a small book, a quick but agonising read, and well worth for its insight into the extremes of human nature.


Blackout
Blackout
by Gianluca Morozzi
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.83
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3.0 out of 5 stars Stuck in a lift, will they survive?, March 21, 2011
This review is from: Blackout (Paperback)
Gianluca Morozzi has written a neat claustrophobic thriller set in the elevator of a residential building. In Black Out, three individuals, strangers to each other, enter the lift. Shortly thereafter, the power goes out and the trio is trapped between floors. Their back-stories are filled in between chapters that describe the continuously rising paranoia and terror within the cramped quarters of the lift. I'm not giving anything away when I say that one of the three is vicious serial killer, and his is the only background that is really relevant to the story. The other two could have been pilots or scuba-divers for all their lives had any consequence up to the point they are trapped. So far, so good. True to the genre, the innocents have to escape. How though? And is that all to the story? This is where Morozzi cranks up the unlikeliness factor, and the story - to my mind - degenerates to droll fantasy. It is written in that arch, self-consciously-talking-to-the-reader fashion that might grate on some; the staccato sentences might alienate others, but it is a thin book, trying a bit to be too clever, and will serve as a decent page-turner on a short trip to work.


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