Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Currently Reading

Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon: Gripping Accounts of All Known Fatal Mishaps in the Most Famous of the World's Seven Natural Wonders by Michael Patrick Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers - If you were planning to visit the Grand Canyon before reading this book, you'd change your plans PDQ.  This could also be titled 'Seven Hundred Different Ways to Die in the Grand Canyon' and it starts with a compelling (recent) story of a woman who got drunk and fell over the side.  Having visited the GC, I can tell you that you look at it, think 'Bloody Hell' and then you look down and in that instant you can imagine falling down there, and you inevitably wonder how many people have actually done that - in fact, the book says that its one of the most frequently asked questions of park rangers - 'do many people fall over?' - well, falling over is only one way to die or injure yourself in the GC, and this book plumbs the depths (literally) of recorded deaths, misadventures, murders and suicides over the past hundred or so years.   Some of the stories are a bit too meandering, but others are harrowing and there is occasionally the funny one, though I am sure the victims did not think so at the time.  This book does not just deal with death - it also features miraculous escapes and amazing rescues, and this really brings home to you just how vulnerable the human being is.  An interesting read.  Just do it after visiting.

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett - I wasn't so keen on the last Ken Follett I read which was actually his first work - Pillars of the Earth (which was a very early work and meandered on for several hundred pages, about three hundred and fifty of which could have been cut out) - but this book is of a different order; well written, great characters and a fab story.
Set during WW2, this is a tale of the first order of a German Spy and British Secret Agencies and a remarkable woman - at least two stories go on at the same time and until the last few chapters you aren't very sure why they are relevant to the each other, but they aren't - from 'Amazon' the synopsis is as follows:

"His weapon is the stiletto, his codename: The Needle. He is Hitler’s prize undercover agent - a cold and professional killer.
It is 1944 and weeks before D-Day. The Allies are disguising their invasion plans with a phoney armada of ships and planes. Their plan would be ruined if an enemy agent found out... and then The Needle does just that. Hunted by MI5, he leads a murderous trail across Britain to a waiting U-Boat. But he hasn't planned for a storm-battered island, and the remarkable young woman who lives there . . ."
Highly recommended.
The Royal Governor and The Duchess - The Duke and Duchess of Windsor in the Bahamas 1940-1945 by Owen Platt - take a spoiled American adventuress who broke the heart of a nation, a weak and good for nothing man who once was king and a nation who decided to send them far far away to an (at the time) unimportant outpost of the Commonwealth, and you have the core of the story.  Machinations of the Germans (once again) who are suspected of wanting to take control of the now semi-royal couple, suspicions of their Nazi sympathies and the pressure cooker environment of a small island and you have the crux of this short but interesting book.  I couldn't help but want to slap the ex-king and his new wife for their condescension, snobbery and spoilt behaviour, but this in the end is a book about how England had a lucky escape from these two thoroughly not very nice characters who really should have been sent to Siberia rather than the Bahamas.
Garden of Beasts by Jeffrey Deaver - yet another book based in WW2, I really did not expect to enjoy this story as much as I did, despite it being written by Deaver, who rarely disappoints.
Assassin Paul Schumann is offered a chance to avoid the electric chair or prison. All he needs to do is travel to Berlin for the Olympics and take out Ernst, chief of the bureaucrats who is building German's military might for Hitler with a sideline on a particularly nasty scheme to impress Hitler.
In Berlin an honest police officer Willi Kohl finds himself on Schumann's trail without any idea of what he is up to; his forensic work, given the limitations of the time is well deduced and intelligent, and the research that Deaver has obviously underaken shines through; the Nazis are as bad as you might imagine them, but Schumann, himself a hitman, has flaws and complications of his own and as a reader you might find your sympathies misplaced - until the end. 
Roadside Crosses by Jeffrey Deaver - Deaver is one of my favourite authors for a good, gripping thriller/adventure and this one certainly did not disappoint.  A police officer notices a memorial cross at the side of a road but stranglely the date on it is the following day - the day the police find a kidnapped teenage girl, left for dead in the trunk of a dumped car.
Special Agent Kathryn Dance, the kinesics expert with the California Bureau of Investigation, is on the case. The girl points her to an online community where accusations against a boy at her school turn vicious; it seems the bullying went too far, and he has snapped.
More crosses appear for future victims, linked to a names of users on a website where classmates have been busy attacking the boy; Kathryn Dance has to race against the clock using all her knowledge of kinesics and human behaviour to find the attacker before he can carry out any more attacks.   This is a book closely linked to the internet and Deaver throughout has links to actual web pages (which I confess I did not read) - an interesting idea, though for me the best part of this work was the suspense and the characters - a fab book, had me guessing (wrongly!) until the very end. 

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