it is the first of the month and on the first of the month Mr B queues up with all the money-withdrawing pensioners and postcard-sending tourists at Bath Post Office to send me a book. Or so I thought. In fact he must have nipped down there on a rainy day when bingo and the inside of the open topped tour bus was a more attractive proposition! in order to save sometime in the line, because the book actually arrived today.
Which means that it is well beyond time that I posted the review of the last book, Thin Blue Smoke by Doug Worgul. I confess I have been a littte shy about doing that ever since the author popped up here with a comment and said he was waiting for my opinion. Right. That's the ante upped then.
I have now given it thought and would say this. There are some authors who hit the jackpot with their first novel and then go on to disappoint. ( Monica Ali, Zadie Smith say). Then there are others who write a pretty good first novel and go on to improve wih each one. I am guessing Doug Worgul is the latter. Set in Kansas City the book concerns a group of people connected by their ownership or patronage of a Barbecue restaurant. Worgul can create a sense of place. I am given to fanatsy flight booking on Expedia but never until I read this did I plug in Kansas City. And indeed of taste. He never explains what the vinegar pie is exactly but I want a slice. And he can create characters and throw in enought political context for me to feel I had learned more about the civil rights era. Where the book failed a little for me was the plot. It kind of flatlines along with a game attempt at a spike just before falling to its end. I was constantly hoping for the book to build, for events to develop a heightening significance until they exploded into a memorable end. Rather, they accumulated aimiably like old men lined up at a bar with their halves of mild until the last event when a kind of ruckus happened and time was called. A little disappointing. But that leaves room for the second book to be even better and that means I can anticipate purchasing it which I certainly will do.
Which brings me to Gold. I started it tonight at ten past six and I finished it at ten to nine and in that time I also cooked and ate some mutter paneer and naan and fell asleep under a quilt for a while. (The sleeping relates to my having a chest infection not to the writing mind you.) This is not a weighty book. Nor is it, as the reviews on the cover suggest, " laugh out loud funny." Not unless you habitually laugh out loud at the the kind of humour found in a quite good English Language essay written by a seventeen year old boy. Think characters who are called Septic Barry or are wholly irrelevantly lesbian. I can see where it is supposed to be funny and it occasionally would have caused my mouth to twitch had I had more energy, but it is to funny what last years Christmas cracker jokes are to Frazier. That is not to say that it has nothing going for it. It is published by Canongate who also publish the wonderful Alexander McCall Smith and they seem to have a knack for what I call "bedtime stories for grown ups". This book is a light, untroublesome, tale, nicely self contained. Nothing really happens, but it doesn't happen in a way which leaves you undemandingly entertained even if it does not have the sneakily intelligent wit and sense of reassurance that McCall Smith delivers. It does not have the dramatic denoument either but it does have a touch of poignant irony that caused me to close the book with a sense of completion.
If Thin Blue Smoke is a substantial Boudins sourdough deli sandwich, thick with fillings and served with garnish - tasty, memorable and satisfying, yet not quite enough to classify as a gourmet meal - then Gold is an over refrigerated white bread supermarket sandwich. But one that hits the spot at the time.The prawn mayo you grab just as you are running for a train, say, and savour morsel by finger- licking crumb as you read and slowly relax as the train rumbles through the dark taking you away from a long work trip back towards home. Good for a girl with a chest infection who needed to slow down tonight.
Now, I am still in need of bedtime reading for tonight so I am going to ( close your ears Mr B) download Michael Connolly's The Fifth Witness on to Kindle, in full confidence that in that I shall get a real zinger of an ending!