My fortnightly summary of what I’ve been reading and listening to.
Conviction by Richard North Patterson.
Hardcover (library book).
I have enjoyed all of the R.N.Patterson novels I have read so far, and I’m impressed by his ability to tackle major, controversial, issues head on while working them into a narrative of character and plot.
Conviction wasn’t quite up to the standard of some of his other books like Protect and Defend or Exile, but it was quite enjoyable nontheless. This one tackles the issue of capital punishment, through the efforts of the protagonist, Terri Paget, a middle-aged female lawyer, to prevent the execution of a black man convicted of a disgusting sexual crime which led to the death of a young girl. At first we have no other indication than that this man is guilty, which makes Terri’s efforts seem idealistic but possibly misguided. Her mission is complicated by the reaction of her own daughter, who was herself sexually abused as a child. But eventually our view of the condemned man starts to shift as Terri begins to realise that he is mentally retarded, and then to discover evidence that he is quite probably innocent of the crime.
The author’s target is the byzantine legal system which has grown up around capital punishment in the United States, and the AEDPA statute which comes close to dictating that even strong new evidence of innocence must be disregarded once the original conviction has been confirmed.
I suppose that I didn’t quite enjoy this book as much as Patterson’s earlier works because the didactic strain has become a little too marked (the same thing happened to Wilkie Collins’ later novels).
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.
Paperback (library book).
It says something about how out of touch I have become with modern science fiction (considering that I was Chairman of the 43rd World Science Fiction Convention) that I had never heard of Connie Willis, multiple Hugo and Nebula award winner, until a few weeks ago. I think I stumbled upon a review of one of her books on the Audible site.
Anyway, based on what I could pick up about Willis from Wikipedia, I decided to give one of her books a try. To Say Nothing of the Dog (or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump At Last) was a lot of fun, but ultimately a bit frustrating. Four-fifths of the book is written in an amusing style deliberately cast in the mould of Jerome K. Jerome (the first half of this book’s title is taken from the subtitle to Three Men in a Boat) or P.G.Wodehouse, as the time-travelling protagonist is sent back to Victorian England to try to fix a temporal ‘incongruity’ which may change the entire course of history. The plot, which involves late Victorian romances, mysterious butlers, Oxford dons and a lot of messing about in boats, is too complicated to summarise here, but is very entertaining.
Where it starts to fall down is towards the end, when the complexities of the time-travel plot and the pseudo-scientific justification starts to overwhelm the fun, and the key object (the Bishop’s Bird Stump) which has driven the plot for most of the length of the book is eventually trivialised so much that you wonder why anyone bothered.
Still, I liked it, and I’ll look for other Connie Willis novels.
The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
E-Book, read on my iPod Touch
I read this because it was free from Gutenberg (all of Burroughs’ work is now in the public domain), and because I hadn’t read it since I was about 12.
Well, it was fun to read when I was 12, but that’s about only age to read it, I think.
This is very much in the mode of Boy’s Own Magazine, with sterling American heroes despatching villainous Germans and getting lost at sea in a captured World War I U-Boat until they discover by accident a lost continent where ape-men live alongside dinosaurs (almost plagiarizing Conan Doyle’s Lost World). The romance between the rock-jawed hero and the sole female on board the U-Boat is laugh-out-loud stuff for any adult reader today.
End in Tears by Ruth Rendell.
E-Book, read on my iPod Touch
This is part of Rendell’s series based on her detective Chief Inspector Wexford.
Wexford featured in Rendell’s first published novel in 1964. It’s interesting that Rendell has obviously retained a fondness for Wexford as a character despite writing simply scores of other novels, many of which explore psychological territory far distant from these tales of a rural policeman. Given that Wexford must have been working as a policeman for well beyond 45 years now, I’m wondering if his continued failure to retire isn’t starting to strain credibility a little…!
Never mind, Wexford is still a great and well-rounded character, and this novel, published in 2005, is no disappointment, as it works through the circumstances surrounding the murder of a young woman for a reason which does not become apparent until the very end of the book. The issues of childlessness and surrogate motherhood are explored through various twists of the plot, and through the decision of Wexford’s own daughter to act as a surrogate mother, a decision which seems close to splitting apart his family.
Very enjoyable, and again, no trouble at all to read on the iPod screen.
I’m also listening to the audiobook version of Trunk Music by Michael Connelly as I walk or drive, but I have really only just started it. I’ll talk about it next time.