Archive for the ‘book reviews’ Category

April 22, 2017

Love Songs of Carbon (The Yellow Earl: Almost an Emporer, Not Quite a Gentleman) by [Gross, Philip]   I found the first two poems of this collection very difficult and left the book alone for some months. But then I thought – either read it or take it down the charity shop (I do sometimes wonder who buys the books I leave at the charity shop – the last one was a bone-dry biography of Ben Nicholson: but I digress). So with a small sigh I re-entered Love Songs of Carbon – and wow! ‘Thirty Feet Under’ uses the imagery of a super-low spring tide to talk about ageing. ‘Mould Music’ is fascinating about the moulds that appear on all living things (except, actually, human bodies – if you have mould you need to see a doctor, stat). But I have now reached ‘A Love Song of Carbon’ (the title poem) and have been absolutely blown away by this about scattering the ashes of his parents on Dartmoor. I am now chomping through the rest with great enthusiasm. He uses as his colouring pencils not only the natural world, but also the part of the world I am from.

I sometimes write poetry and have always denigrated what I write as ‘just nature stuff’ because robins and storms and seasons figure largely in it. I may stop doing that (denigrating), because I now see that the natural world is a fine metaphor for the human condition. Why would it not be? We and it are all made of carbon, after all. Even my storms are distributing carbon from here to there.

If you have only read the first couple of poems you have absolutely not seen the best this collection offers. (And it has to be said that the cover does not beckon one in either). But what is inside that rather dull cover is akin to reaching the top of the hill outside Weymouth and seeing the sea sparkling in front of you. Go on! You will be rewarded.

Advertisements

Review of ‘The Chinese Spymaster’ by Hock G Tjoa

March 23, 2017

The author provided me with an e-file of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Chinese Spymaster by [Tjoa, Hock]

I enjoyed this book a lot. I like to learn New Stuff when I read fiction and, for me, this book contained plenty of fascinating, fresh, information about the Chinese in general, particularly their intelligence agencies; the Pashtun people and their fragmented existence in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and the reaction of intelligence communities in countries such as Israel and the UK to their Chinese counterparts. Tjoa maintains that his depiction of the Chinese intelligence agencies is without foundation in fact. However, it is certainly founded on intimate knowledge of Chinese culture and rang very true.

The premise is that the Pashtuns are seeking to acquire a portable nuclear device to use as political leverage. They are talking to six different potential suppliers. (This is not a spoiler: it is part of the blurb.) It was an interesting and timely plot device. And enabled Tjoa to investigate the character of Spymaster Wang, who was a child during The Great Leap Forward, when blame and self-criticism were vicious tools of the state, and recognises that elements of that mindset still exist in China today. The ways in which Chinese friendships and families work are subtly different from western ways. As are their work relationships. Tjoa shows us this through Wang’s way of working and his social interactions.

At its best this book stands comparison with Le Carré’s early work. Spymaster Wang and George Smiley would very much enjoy each other’s company. Much of the book consists of people finding stuff out and puzzling over what it means. I prefer this sort of spy thriller to those where there is a high and bloody body count. There is action, but the espionage is more cerebral than physical.

A nice line in Chinese aphorisms runs through the book. I particularly liked ‘act without desiring the results of your action!’, a mantra apparently predating the Lord Buddha, taught by Japanese Zen masters, who were themselves taught by Chinese Zen masters.

By the end of the book I felt I knew considerably more about the way in which power is shifting towards the East in our world. It is moving not only towards China, but also towards various, post-Soviet, ‘Stans along the Silk Road and lining China’s borders – and, of course, one must not forget the firestorm which is the Middle East. Le Carré and others cast about constantly for new theatres of espionage and intrigue now that the Iron Curtain has come down. These days a refreshing breeze disturbs the Bamboo Curtain, giving us glimpses behind it. Charles Cummings touched upon nationalism among the Uyghurs (one of China’s ethnic minorities who also turn up in The Chinese Spymaster) in his 2008 book Typhoon. Tjoa also contemplates the rumblings of nationalism in this part of the world (might it begin, in truth, with the Pashtuns?) This is fruitful ground for the modern spy thriller writer.

There is rather more ‘telling’ in the book than the modern, western, fashion in fiction-writing favours. But in the context, it is probably the most economical way to keep the story moving.

The occasional shifts in where and when we were kept me on my toes. In one case we unexpectedly timewarped some ten years into the past. However, it very quickly became apparent that this was essential information. And how else was it to be offered to the reader?

Tjoa thoughtfully provides a ‘Key Words, Abbreviations and Institutions’ section, and maps. An aide memoire to the large cast of characters would also have been helpful. I had no difficulty with Hu and Yu. Nor with Wang, Tang and Owyang. The use of nicknames (apparently a Chinese schtick) helped. But I did have difficulty remembering who was who among the many minor characters. (I would make a lousy spy!)

If you like your spying bang up to date and more mental than action-based, I believe you will enjoy this book.

Review of ‘Wisdom of Fools’, collection of short stories by Phil Harvey

February 26, 2017

**Originally written for “BigAl’s Books and Pals” book blog. May have received a free review copy.**

Wisdom of Fools: Stories of Extraordinary Lives by [Harvey, Phil]

 

Of this collection of eight stories by Phil Harvey six of them are contemporary, two are science fictionish.

Phil Harvey has other important career strands alongside his fiction writing. He is the author of non-fiction books about contraception, government snooping and libertarian values; he has set up a charity which implements family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention programs in developing countries; helped fund the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Police project and NORML; he works to raise awareness of freedom-of-speech issues and injustices caused by the war on drugs; and he runs a company which helps adults enjoy their sex lives. His compassion in and deep knowledge of these various areas informs his fiction, to advantage.

These are meaty stories. The author turns out to be one of those treasured finds in whom, as a reader, one may place absolute trust (although that was, perhaps, not completely true of the final story in the collection ‘Xa’s Pool’: it is still a fine story).

The eight stories are delightfully varied. Nevertheless, they do have aspects in common. I would describe them all as having both a visceral foundation and as many layers as an onion. Harvey sketches in characters at the same time as he develops the story – no hanging around to see the set and meet the cast here. Not a word is wasted, which is essential when constructing short stories. The story is underway from the first sentence: the pace and length are perfectly judged – and at the end is a payoff, which one had not seen coming, which is perfect and thought-provoking.

Harvey is a man who really understands the short form in fiction and uses it beautifully. The Amazon puff names several writers of short fiction in whose company these stories can stand. I hereby add Ernest Hemingway – yes, Harvey is THAT good.

My favourite (and it’s a hard choice) is ‘Virgin Birth’ which looks at particularly difficult moral choices that might surround a surrogate pregnancy – the sort of choices that I’ve never been encouraged to think about before. I found it revelatory.

This is a short book. One can absorb a story in a sitting. Even if short fiction isn’t your usual fare I urge you to give these a go. If you’re still wrinkling your nose at the idea, Harvey has longer fiction available. This is an author well worth discovering.

Review of ‘The Damascus Cover’ by Howard Kaplan

February 25, 2017

**Originally written for “BigAl’s Books and Pals” book blog. May have received a free review copy.**

The Damascus Cover (The Jerusalem Spy Series Book 1) by [Kaplan, Howard]

In the new introduction to this edition the author tells us that in its first incarnation, in 1977, this novel sat in the lower reaches of the Los Angeles Times best seller list for 10 weeks. This reissue, self-published by Howard Kaplan in 2014, has obviously been put out to tie in with the forthcoming film, now apparently due in 2017. (Although how they will manage without the late lamented John Hurt, who can say.)

For present purposes, perhaps the most important thing to know about Howard Kaplan is that he has a little experience of being a spy and a lot of knowledge about the Middle East. He has lived in Israel and traveled extensively through Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. He knows the life of which he writes.

This is an excellent spy thriller. Authors are so often recommended by publishers as ‘the next John Le Carré’. None of them are, of course. And attempts at comparison simply weaken the writing of those who are not. However, Kaplan is (or was), writing gritty spy fiction which stands genuine comparison with Le Carré circa ‘The spy who came in from the cold’.

I pride myself on being able to spot a plot twist even if it is secreted in a bag of fettuccini, but this book wrong-footed me not once, not twice but thrice. I like to be wrong-footed. Nor did those cunning plot twists feel remotely strained: as soon as the unexpected occurred one could see how it was the inevitable result of what had come before. Thus the book quickly gained a sense of menace: what has Ari missed? How will it come back to bite him? The spy-protagonist is no two-dimensional cipher: the reader goes with him into the abyss created by his own character failings, spiralling down and down, as shown through the action of the book.

The settings are Cyprus, Jerusalem and Syria – economically and vividly drawn. The Middle Eastern setting are topical (despite the book’s age). Aleppo, Beirut and, of course, Damascus all figure largely and are described at a time when they were still beautiful, multi-cultural cities.

The new introduction gives some insight into what has occurred in the Middle East since 1977, but it is not really sufficient for those of us whose knowledge of Middle Eastern politics and wars since 1948 may not be deep or recent. To enjoy this fully it will repay a quick and dirty Google of the main dates and conflicts in the area (there are quite a few) so as to have at least The Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War clear in your mind. This link may be of assistance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Middle_East#Modern_Middle_East

FYI: The prologue and final chapter comprise *graphic* scenes of torture.

There are a few typos which could have been put right when the text was readied for printing this time around. Or perhaps they were introduced at that point – who can say. They will not spoil your enjoyment.

Sound, Vision, Inspiration: How the music of David Bowie became a soundtrack to life by Alex Storer

February 22, 2017

Sound, Vision, Inspiration: How the music of David Bowie became a soundtrack to life

This is an interesting monograph about the late, greatly lamented David Bowie – with a kick ass cover image of Bowie on stage during the Outside tour – which quickly has the reader considering their own favourite Bowie music as well as, perhaps, considering which musicians provide the soundtrack to their own lives. I found it a fruitful line of enquiry. As well as a rundown of Bowie’s music it also encompasses the way we enjoyed music back in the Nineties – searching for music in town centre stores; the weekly music press we relied on for information. Then moves us into the internet age – the way CDs gave over to mp3 downloads; the whole world of music which became available online; magazines that are now only a distant memory; also those that survived, some on paper, some online.

If you are a Bowie fan then this account will jog your memory about lesser known albums and singles, videos and tours which you may have forgotten about. Bowie’s musical production did, after all span five decades, as Storer points out. It will remind you of your favourites and motivate the sort of conversations which start ‘yes, but also …,’ which could keep you up late into the night and require considerable consumption of alcoholic beverages.

I got slightly confused about when we were from time to time. But I understand that the story doesn’t unfold to best advantage in an entirely chronological way, and if that sometimes led to a certain confusion with when in Storer’s life we were, I could still see demonstrated the impact the music had on the author’s life.

I found it interesting that Storer contrasted the wait for albums and, occasionally, the hunt for them, with the ease we experience buying music now. I remember, in the Seventies, driving from Aberystwyth to North Wales on a pilgrimage to the only record store in the principality that stocked American imported blues music. Bliss! How little of the glorious music in stock I could afford. Woe! Being one whose favourite music was always on the other side of The Pond I don’t regret the passing of the physical purchase of music in the way that Storer does. But I can certainly understand it. The way we enjoy music now brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘easy listening’. Storer has done more than follow a major artiste through nearly 40 years of his recording career (with a nod to the decade before that), he has also reminded us how music was produced and how we consumed it. Also how Bowie was always in tune with the zeitgeist in the design of covers and new instrumentation, new methods of production and dissemination of his music.

If you are a Bowie fan you should certainly read this short treatise on the man’s music. If you are interested in how the production of music for mass consumption has changed in the past 30 years you will find much here to interest you. If you are interested in being prompted to think about who your own musical heroes are and what impact they have had on your own life, this is a good place to start.

Enjoy.

Review: The Museum Heist by Kameel Nasr

December 17, 2016

The Museum Heist: A Tale of Art and Obsession by [Nasr, Kameel]     

**Originally written for “BigAl’s Books and Pals” book blog. May have received a free review copy.**

Genre:  Crime

Description:  The crime at the bottom of this mystery actually took place. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston exists and works of art, including the paintings the book speaks of, were stolen from it in the small hours the day after St. Patrick’s Day, 1990. There art and life diverge: the real stolen paintings have never been recovered.

The fiction is partly a ‘what if’ about what might have happened to the art and how it might have been retrieved. But it is also about the sort of odd-ball who might have found the missing art.

The blurb claims the book “is a fast-paced, wily whodunit filled with intrigue, romance and stimulating scholarship,” which sounds pretty accurate to me. The blurb continues: “Author, Kameel Nasr, an international adventurer and art connoisseur, shines a penetrating light on the motives, habits, and sometimes less-than-noble intentions in the demi-monde of world-class art collecting. Along the way, he’s created a wonderfully satisfying mystery novel for anyone interested in historical fiction. The Museum Heist takes you on a roller-coaster ride of suspense, a meticulous portrait of the underbelly of the art world at its highest echelons.

Author: Kameel Nasr was born in Lebanon and emigrated to the USA as a child – since when he has turned his hand to very many spiritual, physical and creative pursuits. He describes himself as “an ebullient and upbeat New England writer, adventure cyclist, dancer, spiritual seeker, amateur astronomer, social activist, and patron of art and music. Over the past 25 years he has produced books and articles on cycling, international politics, early Christianity, and a Boston Cozy Mystery Series [of which this book is part]. His works have been published in several formats and languages and been cited in numerous articles and journals.”

See more about Nasr at his website, here: https://www.kameelnasr.com/about/

Appraisal: this book is the first ‘Lieutenant Lowell mystery’, published in August 2015. (A second book in the series – The Symphony Heist: A Tale of Music and Desire has been published recently.)

Nasr riffs delightfully on the real news-story (the theft from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston), producing a fantasy of increasing complexity. He mingles investigations into art fraud, forgeries and art thefts with rich information about artworks, known and lost, of the Classical world.

Although this is supposed to be Lieutenant Lowell’s mystery, Nasr’s main protagonist is one ‘Paris’, who lives his life according to Pythagorean principles, following the philosophical tenets of the Greek Classical world, their heroes and heroines, and their pantheon of gods. This develops, inter alia, into an interesting debate about pantheism and monotheism, which led me to ponder on the differences between the rational and the animal mind.

You may throw up your hands at this point and say that all this sounds like heavy going, but the way Nasr treats his subject matter you can begin the book knowing nothing about any of the above, romp along enjoying the story and emerge at the other end knowing considerably more about high art (its collections, forgeries and thefts) and Pythagoras’s Classical Greek world than you ever thought you would – having acquired the information as painlessly as you might consume Greek yoghurt.

So this is a book that is more than a crime novel, and certainly more than the ‘cozy mystery’ that Nasr claims it to be. It is a fascinating and sophisticated puzzle. If you enjoy historical fiction, and/or have a working knowledge of some of the better known Greek stories, e.g. Odysseus’s journey home to Penelope, Orpheus and Eurydice, Helen of Troy and Paris, this will certainly help you to get the most out of the analogies drawn between those tales and the goings-on in this modern heist novel. But lack of that knowledge is no barrier to enjoying the book.

And it has more to say about the human heart and that organ’s motivation than your average crime novel would be interested in.

Oh yes – Lieutenant Lowell does have a considerable role in the book. And his own foibles too. His ‘gut’ is as prominent in the investigation as that of Leroy Jethro Gibbs, if for rather different reasons.

This book is unusual in its subject matter; a bit like Paul Adam’s books about long-lost, priceless violins, but without the murders. If that is your sort of thing, then hie thee to the Classical world without more ado. Here is a link to it on AmazonUK. If that is not your local Amazon you’ll be redirected, I think.

FYI: The book is written in the present tense. This gives a sense of urgency to events and for some reason which I can’t quite put my finger on, imparts a pleasing ingenuousness to the character of ‘Paris’. However, it is a tense which can get wearing over the course of a novel-length read. Fortunately, this is not a long book. Of course, from time to time the author needs to look ahead or behind and, in the file I was working on, such time shifts were not secure which meant the reader had to spend a few minutes working out ‘when’ she was rather than getting on with enjoying the story.

Format/Typo Issues: there were rather many of these in the file I was working from. A scan through an Amazon sample indicates that at least some of these (particularly the more irritating, running oddities) have been fixed. Why would an author seeking positive words about his published opus send a file full of errors to a reviewer? Why indeed.

The infelicities above had to lose the book a star.

Rating: ****

 

 (Approximate page count: 230 pp)

Book review: As Wings Unfurl by Arthur M Doweyko

September 21, 2016

**Originally written for “BigAl’s Books and Pals” book blog. May have received a free review copy.**

As Wings Unfurl by [Doweyko, Arthur M.]

Genre: SF/crime

Description: “Applegate Bogdanski returns from Vietnam with a missing leg, a Purple Heart, and an addiction to morphine. He stumbles through each day, looking forward to nothing and hoping it will arrive soon. When he attempts to thwart a crime, he is knocked unconscious and wakes up to discover that people are once again calling him a hero, though he feels undeserving of the praise.

Apple returns to work and meets Angela, a mysterious woman who claims to be his guardian. Immediately, he feels a connection to her, which morphs into an attraction. But he soon discovers that Angela is much more than she seems.

Apple and Angela are swept up in a conspiracy that stretches through time and space. Together, they must fight to save everything they hold dear from an alien race bent on destroying humanity.”

Author: “After retiring in 2009, Arthur M. Doweyko took up writing fiction. His novel Algorithm garnered a 2010 Royal Palm Literary Award, and is also available in paperback. He has published a number of short stories, many of which have been selected as Finalists in the Royal Palm Literary Award contest, and two Honorable Mentions in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.

Arthur was awarded the 2008 Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award for his contribution to the discovery of Sprycel, a novel anti-cancer drug successfully brought to the marketplace in 2009. He has authored over one hundred publications (papers, abstracts, patents, book chapters) and has been an invited lecturer in a number of drug-discovery and computational venues.

Arthur lives in Florida with the love of his life, Lidia. When he’s not writing, he’s happily wandering the beaches.”

More about the author here, on his website: http://www.arthurmdoweyko.com/

Appraisal: This is a mashup of book genres which, like most hybrids, fizzes with energy. It is set mainly in New York in 1975. As well as apparent guardian angels and an imminent End Of The World As We Know It scenario, there is a new theory of Creation; murder, burglary and general mayhem; and a cast of interesting characters it is easy to root for: there is plenty going on.

Doweyko has an economical, straightforward style which pushes the book along at a goodly clip. Plenty of humour – black, slapstick and ironical  – is employed as a well-judged leaven to the running, fighting, and gory bits, of which there are plenty. In addition the author delivers pithy and interesting description of how ‘Apple’ lost his leg in ‘Nam, the second-hand bookshop where he works and the various locations in New York, London and Tibet (yes, Tibet) which all help to drive the book along.

Tibet. Yes. The characters really get around, so the reader needs to pay attention. I like this sort of surprise, the location shifts are well signposted and the changes quickly bed in. None of the scene changes are gratuitous. Tibet is essential if for no other reason than we meet two delightful characters there, whom I enjoyed very much. The epilogue to the book, when these two are returned to the bosoms of their families, is quite delightful.

The book reminded me slightly of Dr Who, in that someone frequently yells ‘run!’ at his or her companions. That sort of frenetic solution to plotting needs to be very well focussed, and used sparingly, to be effective. In a similar vein, people who quite patently should be dead of their injuries, who are described as dead, and are mourned or celebrated as being dead, keep coming back to life and then being killed all over again. This sort of ploy also needs to be used more sparingly than it is here. There are some characters who are significantly more powerful than others – to the point where at times this reader questioned the need for the ordinarily-abled to be on the team. And, finally, the reader is clouted with the (thinnish) reason why the world needs to end rather too frequently. The sum total of which infelicities have lost the book a star.

Nevertheless, the quality of the writing is good enough to transcend that sort of thing, and I think you will find this book an engaging read if you like your crime a bit off the wall and/or your SF rooted in the here and now. And if you have a thing about Tibet it should leave you with a big, goofy grin on your face. It did me.

Here’s a link to buying the book in the UK:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/As-Wings-Unfurl-Arthur-Doweyko-ebook/dp/B01HY589FG/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474457443&sr=1-1&keywords=as+wings+unfurl

and to purchasing in the USA:

https://www.amazon.com/As-Wings-Unfurl-Arthur-Doweyko-ebook/dp/B01HY589FG/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474457985&sr=1-1&keywords=as+wings+by+doweyko

My rating: ****

Approximate page count: 234 pages

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

September 14, 2016

2312 by [Robinson, Kim Stanley]

I really enjoyed this – but I should add that I am a fan of his Mars trilogy, and of his ecological novels too (he manages to make cycling sound like fun – which is an achievement, in my book). I was made up to find he’d written another book in the ‘Mars’ milieu (this one – and since then another ‘the Martians’ which catches us up with how terraforming Mars and living in harmony with each other is going). If you relish learning about the ways people live after we’ve made the move into space, then you will love this book. If you want to know about the planet Mercury, then you will love it. If you want a lot to happen, not a whole lot does. There is a long walk and a lot of whistling. There are maleficent pebbles. There is galactic politics. Robinson does, however, continually review what it is to be human and what the human condition could become. Like all his work, it is immensely thought-provoking, even if you don’t believe that this is the way humanity will develop. 2312 has confirmed my opinion that Kim Stanley Robinson is the finest writer of SF working today.

Review of ‘The Scroll of Years’ by Chris Willrich

May 28, 2016

     

I pursued this book high and low and finally fettled a copy with the depressing word ‘discard’ on the back. Thereafter I have taken ages to read it, in the same way that one tries to make a particularly delicious ice cream last.

This is the first full length novel about Willrich’s delightful pair of characters Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone. I first met them in short story form and was bowled over by them and their adventures. Hence my quest, when I discovered they existed at longer length. They make guest appearances in various SF and fantasy magazines over more than a decade, so I am hoping that Willrich collects all their adventures together at some point.

What is so great about these characters? Well, obviously, it is what Willrich has made of them. They inhabit a world (at times, worlds) which Willrich has teased out of our Far East, but with subtle differences and shifts which mean that just when you think you have a handle on the what, where, why, when, how and who of it, the whole thing gives a shake like a wet dog and you end up in a different ambience altogether. There are dragons (I love dragons) and then again, perhaps they aren’t dragons. There is magic, and belief systems that one wishes really existed, and true love and honour, and extraordinary feats of physical daring and strength, and immortality and death, and a scroll into which one may enter and live. It is the scroll that provides the heart of the book. Gaunt dives into the scroll when in extreme peril. But a scroll is, itself, a fragile artefact – will it survive?

Willrich’s plotting is delightful. But it is his turn of phrase which never flags. He constantly draws in allusions and permits himself excursions around his own plot which, nevertheless, do not slow pace nor obfuscate the plot. This is clever work. The result is thought-provoking as well as a rollicking good fantasy story. Here is a short extract, taken at complete random, to show what I mean. Any page would give as good an example:

“’Is this place a sort of dream?” Gaunt asked. “Or am I truly in another universe?”

He laughed. “Every place is a sort of dream. But more to your point, this place is normal.”

Now Gaunt laughed. “Having arrived via art appreciation, I question that view.”’

‘About the author’ assures the reader that Willrich is now writing full time. I should jolly well hope so. I am awaiting your next novel with breath bated, Mr Willrich …

 

The Bethlehem Murders: An Omar Yussef Novel: (Omar Yussef Mystery Series 1), 1 Feb 2008, by Matt Rees

February 16, 2016

I love to learn Stuff when I read fiction. As anyone who knows me can testify, I know a little bit about a lot of things. I have no patience with stories that incorporate material which is out of place, fudged or wrong. Good fiction depends on a skeleton of good facts. This novel comes across from the get-go as being by an author who knows what he’s writing about. He says, on his Amazon page: “The aim of my fiction is to take real stories I covered as a journalist and to weave them together to make a single mystery. It’s thrilling crime fiction, but I believe it also gets much closer to the truth about the Palestinians and the way they live than anything you’ll read in news reports.”

Thus I have been completely absorbed by Matt Rees’s first Omar Yussef crime novel. I didn’t spot the date of publication when I began it: it is set in Yasser Arafat’s world of intifada. Sadly that world is with us once again. To learn about the ongoing conflict in Israel/Palestine – what the people who have to live with it feel about it, why it does not stop, and many other nuances of the conflict, has been fascinating. The murders that the book is about could only happen in this place under these conditions. I had a sleepless night last night because I had to finish it: I had to know – and the end is satisfyingly nail-biting (see here are mine – down to the quick!).

Not only does Matt Rees know his Middle East, he also writes lean, pacy prose; sketches his characters economically but with telling effect; uses dialogue to push the plot along and has plenty, plenty plot. Almost everybody and their auntie is claimed to be ‘the new Le Carre’ these days. Matt Rees might actually be the real deal.

Unreservedly: 5 stars.