Been a bit lax on the book reviews lately, or got obsessed by Sudoku and its variants so haven't read much.
This first is more of a preview than a review, since I just bought the book today, looking for a third for the 3 for the price of 2*.
If you have ever read the posts on the side of this blog, you will know that my family history is a bit vague on my father's side but he seems to have come from Cernowitz, a town on the borders of Ukraine and Romania.
But when I picked up a book called the Origins of the British - A genetic detective story by Stephen Oppenheimer, I had no idea that this map would reveal that my British (or more accurately English and Welsh) mother also came from the same area! A few millenia before my father, it's true. Isn't it amazing what the study of genetics can do. No, I can't provide any more details, I need to read the book first.
*the others were one of those nice Page Blank notebooks, with which I like to start a new project, and the new sequel to Chocolat, by Joanne Harris.
I recently read Don't cry for me Aberystwyth by Malcolm Pryce, one of a series with titles like Last Tango in Aberystwyth, Aberystwyth Mon Amour, The Unbearable Lightness of Aberystwyth. They are detective stories in the film noir variety ( can you say that about a book?) with dialogue in the style of a local Raymond Chandler. I'm not sure how funny they are, if you don't know Aberystwyth, a small rather dour seaside town in Wales, with a university. Characters range from the local gym master, the donkey man and the icecream seller, plus the local druids. The plots are funny in a drole sort of way, if you know Aberystwyth. Actually I only went there two or three times, but it's very Welsh. The plots are pretty silly, but I quite like them.
Much better is Berlin Noir, which has 3 books in one. In keeping with reviewing books when I feel like it, whether I have finished them or not, I am reviewing this when I have only got as far as half way through no 2. The books are by Philip Kerr who I had never heard of before, I didn't realise that there were 3 in 1 when I bought it, and I nearly didn't buy it at all, thinking it would be another spy novel - a poor imitation of Le Carre. And another, half recognised thought came, did I really want to read another novel about the second world war, hasn't it all been done to death already? I know, I know, I should be ashamed of myself. And I am really looking forward to reading the next Irene Nemirovsky when I find it.
But Philip Kerr's books (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, and A German Requiem) are not war or spy novels since they deal with, so far anyway, the 1930s after Hitler came to power. The style is Raymond Chandler, the criminal argot is unfamiliar, presumably German, (though it seems they are written in English not translated), and the story is about a freelance detective wrestling with the problems of missing persons, either killed by organised crime (usually linked to the government) or missing persons (definitely linked to Gestapo or the Kripo or the Orpo, the rival police forces of the time) or missing jewellery. Apart from the detective story and the dialogue, the books are very good on the lives of ordinary people of the time, how they cope with a government becoming increasingly thuglike and out of democratic control. Explanations about the building of the autobahns by ex-cons are thrown in for good measure. Black humour is also part: the first book starts with this quotation:
FIRST MAN: Have you noticed how the March Violets (people who joined the party later, jumping on the bandwagon) have managed to completely overtake Party veterans like you and me?
SECOND MAN: You're right. Perhaps if Hitler had also waited a little before climbing on to the Nazi bandwagon he'd have become Fuhrer quicker too.
By the end of the first book, the hero just gets to solve the crime, but only after a spell in Dachau (not I should add by choice) and a lucky break, while there. He seems to make quite a lot of money, but his girlfriend vanishes, (as do many people in the book) while he is chasing the villains, so there is no happy ending (yet). Definitely a good read and quite educational in a grim way, well removed from the typical British caricatures of the Gestapo and Nazi leaders.