First Chapter First Paragraph: The Earth Hums in B Flat

eca8f-fistchapEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or is planning to read soon.

This week’s opening is from The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan.

The Earth Hums in B Flat

It begins:

I fly in my sleep every night. When I was little I could fly without being asleep; now I can’t even though I practise and practise. And after what I saw last night I want more than ever to fly wide-awake. Mam always says: I want never gets. Is that true?

Blurb (from the back cover):

Young Gwenni Morgan has a gift. She can fly in her sleep. She’s also fond of strawberry whip, detective stories and asking difficult questions. When a neighbour mysteriously vanishes, she resolves to uncover the secret of his disappearance and return him to his children. She truthfully records what she sees and hears: but are her deductions correct? What is the real truth? And what will be the consequences – for Gwenni, her family and her community – of finding it out?

Gwenni Morgan is an unforgettable creation, and this portrait of life in a small Welsh town on the brink of change in the 1950s is enthralling, moving and utterly real. Mari Strachan’s debut is a magical novel that will transport you to another time and place.

I like the idea of being able to fly.

What do you think – would you read on?

First Chapter First Paragraph: A Lovely Way to Burn

eca8f-fistchapEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or is planning to read soon.

This week’s opening is from A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh.

A Lovely Way to Burn (Plague Times, #1)

 

It begins with a Prologue:

London witnessed three shootings that summer, by men who were part of the Establishment. The first  was the Right Honourable Terry Blackwell, Tory MP for Hove who, instead of going to his consistency as planned, sat in a deck chair on the balcony of his Thames-side apartment on sweltering Saturday in June and shot dead six holidaymakers.

Blurb:

It doesn’t look like murder in a city full of death.

A pandemic called ‘The Sweats’ is sweeping the globe. London is a city in crisis. Hospitals begin to fill with the dead and dying, but Stevie Flint is convinced that the sudden death of her boyfriend Dr Simon Sharkey was not from natural causes. As roads out of London become gridlocked with people fleeing infection, Stevie’s search for Simon’s killers takes her in the opposite direction, into the depths of the dying city and a race with death.

A Lovely Way to Burn is the first outbreak in the Plague Times trilogy. Chilling, tense and completely compelling, it’s Louise Welsh writing at the height of her powers.

I’ve borrowed this book from the library as I’ve read and enjoyed other books by Louise Welsh and I’m hoping it’ll be just as hypnotically compulsive reading as her other books.

What do you think – would you read on?

The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid

The Skeleton Road (Inspector Karen Pirie, #3)

The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid is the third of her DCI Karen Pirie novels. Investigating the identity of the skeleton found, with a bullet hole in its skull, on the rooftop of a crumbling, gothic building in Edinburgh takes Karen and her Historic Cases Unit into a dark world of intrigue and betrayal during the Balkan Wars in the 1990s.

It begins slowly, introducing rather a bewildering number of characters one after the other. It moves between the past and the present in Scotland, England and Croatia, told through different viewpoints, and interweaving the sequence of events in the past and the present in a way that I found rather disjointed. Dr River Wilde a forensic anthropologist, discovers that the skeleton is a male, he’d been dead between five and ten years and his dental work shows he was originally from one of the Eastern bloc countries.

It’s a complex story with several strands, including the search for war criminals through the work of two lawyers at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Karen’s investigations take her to Oxford and then to a small village in Croatia, a place scarred by fear, where people have endured unspeakable acts of violence.

At times I thought I was reading an account of the wars and the search for justice and revenge rather than a murder mystery. Even given the traumatic events it describes I didn’t feel there was much tension in the search for the killer and I was able to figure out who it was fairly quickly. I enjoyed the sections focusing on Karen’s and her assistant DS James, ‘the Mint’ Murray’s detective work, and I liked all the details of her relationship with her partner, Phil (also a police officer, now working on a different team).  But I didn’t enjoy this as much as the first two Karen Pirie books – in fact I think the first book, The Distant Echo is by far the best.

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown (11 Sept. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408704579
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408704578
  • Source: a library book
  • My rating: 3*

The Fear Index by Robert Harris

The Fear Index

The Fear Index by Robert Harris is a fast-paced story set in the world of high finance and computer technology but it didn’t appeal to me as much as the other books by him that I’ve read. It’s about scientist Dr Alex Hoffman, who together with his partner Hugo Quarry, an investment banker, runs a hedge fund based in Geneva, that makes billions. Alex has developed a revolutionary form of artificial intelligence that tracks human emotions, enabling it to predict movements in the financial markets. It’s built around the standard measure of market volatility: the VIX or ‘Fear Index’.

Alex wakes up one morning in the early hours to find an intruder has managed to bypass the elaborate security of the house. He challenges him only to receive a blow to his head that knocks him out and the intruder escapes. That is just the start of his troubles. A brain scan indicates he may have MS or possibly dementia and he is advised to take further advice, which of course, he doesn’t want to do. It appears that someone is out to destroy him and his company and even worse it soon looks as though this will cause a major global economic crisis. He is at a complete loss as to who it can be. It’s someone who has infiltrated into all areas of his life, affecting his marriage as well as his business.  He even begins to doubt his sanity.

On the one hand it helped me understand a bit more about hedge funds and how they operate but I got lost in the computer technology details. The characters are all not particularly likeable, but it’s definitely a page turner with plenty of suspense as the story raced to a conclusion, and it kept me puzzling over what or who was really causing the paranoia and violence. I thought it began well but didn’t find the ending very illuminating or satisfying and was left wondering what it was really all about.

I liked the chapter headings with extracts from books such as Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which made me wonder if the book was about the evolution of man into machine. Just an idea – if you’ve read the book what did you make of it all?

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; First Edition, First Printing edition (29 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091936969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091936969
  • Source: Library book
  • My rating: 3*

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Days Without End

Hardcover, 259 pages, published October 20th 2016 by Faber & Faber
 
Source: Library Book
 
My Rating: 5*

 

Blurb:

After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, aged barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, fight in the Indian Wars and the Civil War. Having both fled terrible hardships, their days are now vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. Then when a young Indian girl crosses their path, the possibility of lasting happiness seems within reach, if only they can survive.

My thoughts:

This is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year. I was spellbound, the storytelling is superb, the characters are unforgettable, and the setting comes across so vividly that I had no difficulty in imagining the locations. Add to that the narration written in Thomas McNulty’s own uneducated voice, fluent and richly descriptive and so easy to read, despite the mix of Irish and American slang.

Thomas is writing, looking back on their lives, to a time when it seemed that years of their lives were endless:

Time was not something then we thought of as an item that possessed an ending, but something that would go on for ever, all rested and stopped in that moment. Hard to say what I mean by that. You look back at all the endless years when you never had that thought. I am doing that now as I write these words in Tennessee. I am thinking of the days without end of my life. (page 39)

He is a young Irish immigrant, 17 years old when he and his friend John Cole volunteered to join the US army. Thomas, had left Sligo, starved and destitute, for Canada and then made his way to America where he had met John under a hedge in a downpour and they became friends and secretly lovers for life. He describes John Cole as ‘my love, all my love.‘  They began their life together working in a saloon in Daggesville, dancing and dressed as girls, until they were seventeen and they could no longer pass as girls:

But nature will have his way and bit by bit the bloom wore off us, and we was more like boys than girls, and more like men than women. John Cole anyhow in particular  saw big changes in them two years. He was beginning to give giraffes a run for their money, height-wise. Mr Noone couldn’t find dresses to fit him and Mrs Carmody couldn’t stitch fast enough. It was the end of an era, God knowed. One of the happiest works I ever had. (Page 12)

The fact of their love underlies the whole book. But the next stage of their lives was so different, fighting in the Indian wars against the Native Americans as the settlers moved west and then in the Civil War. I’m not keen on reading about wars, battles or fights of any kind but I found the descriptions in this novel were exceptional, truly heart-rending, although I would have preferred fewer scenes of war and massacre. Barry doesn’t spare the details and clearly depicts the horror and waste of war, commenting in Thomas’s voice: Killing hurts the heart and soils the soil (page 225).

After the wars have come to an end they leave the army and the rest of the book follows their lives together with Winona, a young Indian girl, who they come to regard as their daughter. But danger is never far away …

In a way I thought it was odd how this book held my attention. I was surprised by a number of things – the very long paragraphs, sometimes extending to several pages  – the strange grammatical errors and figures of speech, and at times passages written in the present tense. And yet, Barry’s prose is so lyrical and poetic that I think this is what made the book so compelling to read. Each time I picked it up to read I became lost in its pages. It is not perfect, but then I often find that that doesn’t matter when I’m so totally captivated by the writing, which is why I’ve given this book 5 stars.

Amazon UK link

A Darker Domain by Val McDermid

A Darker Domain (Karen Pirie, #2)

This is the second book in Val McDermid’s Kate Pirie series, a series that really should be read in order as A Darker Domain reveals one of the outcomes of the first book, The Distant Echo.

Description from Amazon:

Twenty-five years ago, the daughter of the richest man in Scotland and her baby son were kidnapped and held to ransom. But Catriona Grant ended up dead and little Adam’s fate has remained a mystery ever since. When a new clue is discovered in a deserted Tuscan villa – along with grisly evidence of a recent murder – cold case expert DI Karen Pirie is assigned to follow the trail.

She’s already working a case from the same year. During the Miners’ Strike of 1984, pit worker Mick Prentice vanished. He was presumed to have broken ranks and fled south with other ‘scabs’… but Karen finds that the reported events of that night don’t add up. Where did he really go? And is there a link to the Grant mystery?

The truth is stranger – and far darker – than fiction.

My thoughts:

The first thing that struck me when I began reading this book is that is not divided into chapters. Instead the text is divided by date and place, which initially is a bit confusing, moving between the two cases Karen is investigating. However, I soon got the hang of it.

I like the mix of fact and fiction in A Darker Domain, using the Miners’ Strike as the backdrop to the mystery of Mick Prentice’s disappearance. It is intricately plotted, with a large cast of characters and it’s deceptively easy to read – it’s easy to pass over significant facts that you realise later are of importance.

I like Karen Pirie, who had been a Detective Constable in the second part of the first book, The Distant Echo. Now she is a Detective Inspector in charge of the Cold Case Review Team in Fife. She describes herself as

a wee fat woman crammed into a Marks and Spencer suit, mid-brown hair needing a visit to he hairdresser, might be pretty if you could see the definition of her bones under the flesh. (page 6)

In the tradition of fictional detectives she’s an independent character, who takes little notice of her ineffectual boss, who she nicknames the ‘Macaroon’, undermining his authority. But she is hard-working and tenacious.

I like the contrasts Val McDermid portrays, such as the ‘darker domain‘ of the miners’ lives, the rich landowner wanting to find his grandson, and the beautiful setting in Tuscany where the members of a troupe of puppeteers, are squatting in a ruined villa.

I also like the mix of the two cases, which, as this is crime fiction, I fully expected would at some point interlink. The question is how do they interlink? Val McDermid has a neat way of leading you along the wrong lines with her twists and turns, culminating in the final paragraph. But the ending seemed rushed, tacked on, almost as an afterthought, which left me bemused and feeling rather flat. So, not as good as The Distant Echo but still an entertaining book.

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; First Thus edition (2 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007243316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007243310
  • Source: a library book
  • My rating: 3.5* (rounded up to 4* on Goodreads)

Reading Challenges: my 4th book for R.I.P. XII

I hope to read the next book in the series, The Skeleton Road, before the end of the year.

My Friday Post: Conclave by Robert Harris

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week’s first paragraph is from Conclave by Robert Harris, a thriller set in the Vatican as the 118 cardinals meet in the Sistine Chapel to cast their votes for a new Pope.

Conclave

It begins:

Cardinal Lomeli left his apartment in the Palace of the Holy Office shortly before two in the morning and hurried through the darkened cloisters of the Vatican towards the bedroom of the Pope.

He was praying: O Lord, he still has so much to do, whereas all my useful work in Your service is completed. He is beloved, while I am forgotten. Spare him, Lord. Spare him. Take me instead.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56

Lomeli reckoned the Holy Father had had it in mind to remove almost half of the senior men he had appointed.

From the back cover:

The Pope is dead. 

Behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel, one hundred and eighteen cardinals from all over the globe will cast their votes in the world’s most secretive election. 

They are holy men. But they have ambition. And they have rivals. 

Over the next seventy-two hours one of them will become the most powerful spiritual figure on earth.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed other books by Robert Harris, so I’m expecting to like this one too.