September 20th, 2013


Book 169: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Simon Mawer.

Book 169: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky.
Author: Simon Mawer, 2012.
Genre: Period Fiction. England/France 1940s. Spy Fiction. War.
Other Details: Paperback. 368 pages.

Marian Sutro is an outsider: the daughter of a diplomat, brought up on the shores of Lake Geneva and in England, half French, half British, naive yet too clever for her own good. But when she is recruited from her desk job by SOE to go undercover in wartime France, it seems her hybrid status - and fluent French - will be of service to a greater, more dangerous cause.

Trained in sabotage, dead-drops, how to perform under interrogation and how to kill, Marian parachutes into south-west France, her official mission to act as a Resistance courier. But her real destination is Paris, where she must seek out family friend Clement Pelletier, once the focus of her adolescent desires. A nuclear physicist engaged in the race for a new and terrifying weapon, he is of urgent significance to her superiors. As she struggles through the strange, lethal landscape of the Occupation towards this reunion, what completes her training is the understanding that war changes everything, and neither love nor fatherland may be trusted
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

There was already a novel with this title by Heidi W. Durrow published in US and so to avoid confusion this was published there as Trapeze. The novel was written as a tribute to the 39 women of the Special Operations Executive who risked their lives during WWII to enter France as undercover operatives during the German occupation.

The novel opens with Marian preparing for her parachute drop into France and then loops back to describe her recruitment and training before continuing on with her mission in France. I found myself gripped from this opening through to its final page. It was dangerous work, often unglamorous and at times I found Marian an unsympathetic protagonist. I had to remind myself that she was only 20 years old and in many ways quite out of her depth in this situation. This was illustrated by Marian often comparing her experiences to those of Alice in Wonderland (and Through the Looking Glass) and she even takes Alice as an alias for a time during her mission. Yet even though she makes this association with the stories of her childhood the sense of real danger is ever present.

I found it a highly compelling story though wish the publishers had dropped the review quote on the cover that called it "as good as le Carre". I found it more akin to William Boyd's 'Restless', an association that was helped by both novels using a woman in a red coat on the cover.

'The Girl Who Fell From the Sky'/'Trapeze' - contains detailed synopsis, sample chapter and interviews about novel.


#57 Lady Mary Anne Barker: Station Life in New Zealand
A collection of letters written by Lady Barker from New Zealand to London in the 1880s. Having recently moved to NZ myself, I really enjoyed reading this. In particular I found the following complaint very funny:

In England one fancies that New Zealand is quite close to Australia, so I was rather disgusted to find we had another thousand miles of steaming to do before we could reach our new home.

It's planes nowadays, but it still always a surprise that another 3-4 hour flight is in store from Australia.

I was intrigued as to why Lady Barker decided to leave and go back to England. It felt rather pointless to come and establish a sheep station for only 3 years. There were all those natural disasters to contend with, but she does not make it clear that they caused the departure.

#58 Oliver Plötzsch: The Ludwig Conspiracy (audio)

On the surface rather similar to the Da Vinci Code and other Brown's books. But it has it's own Bavarian charm (and yes, I am a fan of Ludwig - not a crazy fan, but an interested admirer nonetheless). Ludwig II, the fairy tale king, who built beautiful castles, went on midnight rides in a sleigh, and left letters for his beautiful and no less eccentric cousin, the empress Sissi, under a stone on an island... The mystery of his death has never been entirely solved and is the focus of this book. I've found the story fast-paced and full of interesting turns and would definitely recommend it.

#59 Margaret Atwood: Lady Oracle
I have read other books by Margaret Atwood, all of them post-apocalyptic, and so this one was a pleasant and humorous surprise. I've enjoyed it very much, although i found the ending a bit vague. Not like an ending at all really. But perhaps that is the whole point: unlike in Gothic novels which the heroine writes, life does not really have happy endings or any endings. Just an unresolved continuum.

Book #48: Jingo by Terry Pratchett

Number of pages: 285

I first read this book many years ago and wasn't too impressed by it; however, I decided to give it another go.

The story opens with a mysterious island rising up between the kingdoms of Ankh Morpork and Klatch, and both cities claim it is their land, resulting in the outbreak of a full-scale war. The book revolves mainly around Commander Vimes and the City Watch, who are once again attempting to solve a murder, and the kidnapping of a Klatchian prince.

For a while, I thought this wasn't particularly exciting and that it was too similar to previous City Watch books, but I couldn't have been more wrong as the story really picks up when the City Watch head to Klatch and get involved in the proceedings, with typically absurd results. This books is at times hilarious, mostly the jokes about clichés revolving around pirates (I loved the bit about the typical cartoon image of pirates swinging with cutlasses in their mouths). There is also a brilliant running joke involving Vimes' pocket organiser that consists of a demon in a box.

The story is mainly a satire, with some brilliant lines regarding the absurdities of war:

"What for? We're not at war with anyone. Hah! But we might go to war to keep some damn island that's only useful in case we have to go to war, right?"

"Aren't I supposed to be at war with you? Can't be murder if there's a war on. That's written down somewhere".

As usual too, there are some great moments involving the City Watch characters, mostly the endless bickering between Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs.

Overall, I felt that this book feels a bit slow to begin with, but it is worth sticking with as the second half is worth reading, making this one of the better City Watch novels.

Next book: Heads and Straights (Lucy Wadham)

Book 170: The Jackal Man by Kate Ellis

Book 170: The Jackal Man (Wesley Peterson #15).
Author: Kate Ellis, 2011
Genre: Crime Thriller. Police Procedural. Historical Mystery. Egyptology.
Other Details: Hardback. 393 pages.

When a teenage girl is strangled and left for dead on a lonely country lane by an attacker she describes as having the head of a dog, the police are baffled. But when the body of another young woman is found mutilated and wrapped in a white linen sheet, DI Wesley Peterson suspects that the killer is performing an ancient ritual linked to Anubis, the jackal-headed Egyptian god of death and mummification.

Meanwhile, archaeologist Neil Watson has been called to Varley Castle to catalogue the collection of Edwardian amateur Egyptologist Sir Frederick Varley. As his research progresses, Neil discovers that Wesley's strange murder case bears sinister similarities to four murders that took place near Varley Castle in 1903 - murders said to have been committed by Sir Frederick's son. As the Jackal Man's identity remains a frustrating enigma, it seems that the killer has yet another victim in mind. A victim close to Wesley Peterson himself...
- synopsis from author's website.

This was a terrific instalment of this consistently well-crafted series. There is also a sub-plot linked to Wesley's earlier life at the Met when his old boss from the Arts and Antiques squad turns up on the trail of smugglers of ancient Egyptian artefacts that he has traced to South Devon. As always there were plenty of suspects for the murders and also for the smuggling operation. There were plenty of twists, turns and frightening moments before the killer was unmasked. Their identity caught me totally by surprise, something Ellis excels at.

I do feel sorry for dear old Doctor Neil Watson, he just is so hopeless at expressing himself when he finds himself attracted to a woman. Maybe before the series ends he'll find love. Getting close to the end of the series to date, with only two more to read.