Haven’t done this for a while – a quick round-up of reasonably interesting books that you may or may not like.
First up: A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil, by Christopher Brookmyre. He’s been described as the Scottish Carl Hiassen but up until now I’ve always smirked rather than belly laughed at his stories. This, though, is superb: it starts with some particularly inept criminals and then goes into flashback to talk about the characters’ schooldays. I suspect the school stuff is the book Brookmyre really wanted to write, because it’s incredibly well observed and “oh my god, my guts hurt” funny.
Next up: Lifeless, by Mark Billingham. He’s one of the UK crime pack’s current stars and while all the cliches are here – misunderstood, depressed cop; gritty urban setting; lots of violence – the story itself is clearly fuelled by anger. Unfortunately I can’t tell you what Billingham’s angry about without giving away a key plot point, so here’s the headline story instead: somebody’s kicking homeless people to death and DS Thorne goes undercover to catch the bugger…
Stuart MacBride is the latest Scot to join the crime pack, and his publisher clearly reckons Logan MacRae could be the next inspector Rebus. Cold Granite and Dying Light are both set in Aberdeen, and while they’re largely by-the-numbers police procedurals (no bad thing – I’m addicted to the things) with fairly chaotic and rushed endings, they stand out because of the spectacularly nasty nature of the crimes – especially in Dying Light, which is really, really nasty. Dying Light’s the better of the two, although I’m not sure it’ll make much sense if you haven’t read Cold Granite first: there’s not much character development in the second book.
There’s no neat way to segue into the next two: for no apparent reason I seem to be on a gender studies tip at the moment, so I’ve recently read Self Made Man by Norah Vincent and Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy. The former describes how Vincent spends a year disguised as a bloke to find out what makes us tick, and the latter is a look at the way “empowerment” has come to mean “pretending to be a porn star”. Self Made Man is a little cliched – one of the places Vincent goes is a strip club, which might reflect the lives of *some* men but certainly not all of them – and Female Chauvinist Pigs feels a little unfocused, but they throw up more than enough interesting ideas and arguments to make them worthwhile.