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A blog by Nikki Dudley about the gaps in everyday life...

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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

February book reviews




The Sign of Four
by Arthur Conan Doyle / *** stars

I fancied some good old crime fiction so I turned to Mr Doyle. This novel was short and starts off with Holmes and Watson having some good banter at the start. Holmes is taking drugs and telling Watson that the only thing that can surpass his addiction is the excitement of a puzzling case.

Enter: beautiful young woman with some pearls and a mysterious note... Watson is smitten almost immediately. This side-story didn't particularly interest me, especially as it didn't seem quite plausible. Either way, there is definitely an enigmatic case set up. The young woman's father was killed some years ago and for the last eighteen years or so, she has been receiving one pearl in the post per year. She believes these are connected. And now she has received a note to ask her to meet at a location that night with someone she doesn't know.

What to do? Well, of course Holmes and Watson are drawn right in. After another murder, things take a drastic turn and pull Holmes and Watson even further into an intriguing case which has something to do with lost treasure, a mysterious sign left on the bodies of several people (the sign of four) and events from the past that won't rest.

I did enjoy the usual banter between Holmes and Watson. Holmes is a mastermind as ever, donning disguises, outwitting the villains, observing the most minute details... However, I didn't find this as satisfying as some other Holmes novels. I think what brought it down was the long-winded confession by one of the villains at the end. Apart from that, it was intriguing and exciting throughout and definitely quite unconventional!

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman / *** and a half stars

I was given this at work to review for our childrens' website. It was an interesting tale - Harri, an eleven year old boy from Ghana is settling into his new life in the UK. He lives with his mother and slightly older sister. He is the second fastest runner in year 7, he draws the stripes on his 'Adidas' trainers, he is fascinated with the Dell Farm Crew and he is friends with Dean.

When a boy is murdered on his estate, Harri and Dean start to investigate. They collect prints, observe people around their estate and search for the murder weapon. In a world where they don't trust the police, Harri's investigation starts to reach his sister, his friends, the notorious Dell Farm Crew who terrorise his estate and school, and even Harri himself.

This is a gritty and funny book which deals with serious issues. Harri's voice is unique - abrupt, discriminate and innocent all at once. My only gripe is the paragraphs written from a pigeon's perspective which just didn't work for me, but overall, a great read and I would much recommend.

Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson / ** and a half stars

I was recommended this book by the ever knowledgeable Amazon.co.uk (he he) based on my past reads. It actually sounded good so when I saw a free copy at work, I was pleased to take it home and get started.

This book starts in a strange way. I wasn't sure whose perspective it was coming from for the entire first chapter. This turned out to be something that happened throughout the novel but because I got used to it, it was much more manageable.

Not to ruin it too much, the story is of a young married couple (Wim and Maria) and their experiences of housing a Jew in hiding during the Second World War. I won't spoil the plot but it is an interesting snapshot (a 'snapshot' because it is also so short!). Wim and Maria are interesting main characters, despite Wim being a bit distant and Maria a bit domesticated (which may be realistic for the time but as a woman, slightly annoyed me).

From early on, the novel presents a problem to the characters and readers, who must try to find the best way of dealing with it. There is not really any 'comedy', unless it is VERY black. There are many flashbacks, all adding to the tender and troubling relationship between the couple and the man they are hiding, Nico. What was strange was the amount of other people in the novel who were also hiding people. Although, it made me hopeful that this was true!

A satisfying read. Not amazing and there are some flaws, but worth a read. A new perspective on WWII at the very least.

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