#BookReview - Alex by Pierre Lemaitre (translated by Frank Wynne)

 SHE'S RUNNING OUT OF TIME

Alex Prévost - kidnapped, beaten, suspended from the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse in a wooden cage - is in no position to bargain. Her abductor's only desire is to watch her die. 

HE WANTS ONLY ONE THING

Apart from a shaky police report, Commandant Camille Verhoven has nothing to go on: no suspect, no leads. If he is to find Alex, he will have to get inside her head. 

ESCAPE IS JUST THE BEGINNING

Resourceful, tough, beautiful, always two steps ahead - Alex will keep Verhoven guessing till the bitter end. And before long, saving her life will be the least of his worries.

This isn't going to be an easy review to write. Not because I don't know what to say about the book - there's plenty I could say, but I really don't want to give away any spoilers and in a book that's as packed with twists as this one that's not easy. So I won't be saying much about the plot, suffice to say it's one of the most gripping, shocking and gr…

Book Review: One Big Damn Puzzler by John Harding

Image courtesy of john-harding.co.uk

One Big Damn Puzzler was published a few years ago but the reviews on this blog will be for books I've read and enjoyed and so will include older as well as more recently published titles.
It was actually a recommendation on Twitter (from Ben Hatch, author of Road to Rouen reviewed here) that led me to this book; once I read that the plot involved a tribesman on a remote South Pacific island who is attempting to translate Hamlet into the local pidgin English I couldn't fail to be hooked.
Managua is the name of the ageing tribesman and he is the only islander able to read. As the book begins he is struggling to translate Hamlet's famous soliloquy, they have no concept of nobles on the island, nor do they use slings and arrows. Eventually "To be, or not to be, that is the question:" becomes "Is be, or is be not, is be one big damn puzzler:" and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune are "Clubs and bamboo pits of real damn bad luck." Meanwhile his wife Lamua jealously hunts for Cordelia, the pig she believes Managua loves more than her.
Their lives, and that of all the islanders are interrupted by the arrival of William Hardt, an American lawyer who has, he says, come to help them. Flashback chapters show us William's battle to control his OCD, a battle made much harder on an island with a communal shitting beach.
The only other white resident on the island, Miss Lucy is an ethnographer, we discover more about the islanders through excerpts of her book 'The Other Side of Paradise: The Sexual Life And Customs Of An Unspoiled People." These excerpts and the chapters about William and Lucy's earlier lives may have been a distraction from the main narrative but actually I rather liked the slightly more meandering route to explain the behaviour of the characters.
We learn of the islanders' taboos, their attitude to sex before and after marriage, their rituals following a death and their belief in magic. The men visit the kassa house, where stoned on the local drug they converse with dead relatives, we are left to decide whether they experience a mass hallucination or magic really is at work. We find out too that in this matrilineal society where girls are more highly prized, mothers who have only had sons will dress their youngest boys as girls, the scenes involving the she boys often being the most affectionate and touching in the book.
William wants to help the islanders, many of whom lost limbs after stepping on mines left by American soldiers and believes that he can make their lives better but as the book progresses he is forced to reassess those beliefs.
I remember reading an article in The Guardian recently about books that make you laugh out loud. I would add One Big Damn Puzzler to that list, I'm a big fan of PG Wodehouse and with all the secret keeping in this book I was reminded of the more farcical scenes in Plum's books - and of course there's a pig! There is a deeper, more bittersweet side to the story too though, if you have a dry eye after reading the islanders' version of the Yorick scene in Hamlet then you're made of sterner stuff then I am.
It's a book that owes as much to The Tempest as to Hamlet and references other Shakespeare plays too but if you're not a fan of the Bard don't let that put you off. The memorable characters, humour and compassion combine into a delight of a book I highly recommend.

One Big Damn Puzzler is published by Black Swan.


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