Here’s another blog about books that have recently made their way through my long and varied reading list. These aren’t really reviews. Just short snapshots of what the books are about, and maybe a nugget or two about my reaction to them. If you’re a big reader, maybe you will find them useful.
Also: It’s a way to pimp my own book. So fair warning…..
England’s Dreaming, Jon Savage: I have a bit of an ongoing obsession with the late-70s punk movement, which usually manifests itself in running down old YouTube videos of punk bands and punk documentaries. This book chronicles the rise and fall of the UK punk scene, with much (but not all) of the action happening in London. In those days, London was a grim, grimy, economically depressed hellhole – not quite as seedy and dangerous as New York at the time, but close. It’s no coincidence that punk rock rose out of those two embattled cities at that particular moment in time. This is a longish but enjoyable read about the cultural, social and political forces that turned punk from a fringe, working-class music/fashion movement into a global cultural force. You learn about the early stirrings of punk, circa 1975-76, in a Kings Road boutique called Sex that was owned by Malcolm McLaren. The book provides heavy doses of the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Souxie and the Banshees, and other bands that defined the movement.
The Devotion of Suspect X, Keigo Higashino: This 2005 novel was a huge hit in its native Japan and also earned accolades internationally following its 2012 English translation. The story falls into the police procedural/murder mystery category, but with some unexpected twists and turns and deftly written characters that set it apart from the standard stuff. Those characters include the murder victim, the killer, the neighbor helping the killer cover up the crime, and the detective put in charge of the case. I’m not giving too much away by saying that the murder victim is a bad guy, the killer is a sympathetic character, and the neighbor is an oddball with a brilliant mind and a lovelorn heart. You learn all that pretty early on. There are a lot of moving parts in terms of how the detective puzzles out what happens, and it all keeps you turning the pages.
The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe, Erle Stanley Gardner: Like many folks my age, I grew up watching the “Perry Mason” TV series, but I’d never actually read any Perry Mason books until I ran across a bunch of vintage copies last year at a used bookstore in Edinburgh. For those who don’t know, Mason was a Los Angeles-based lawyer with a gift for rooting out the truth behind the crime. This story centers on a well-to-do older woman who has, indeed, been caught shoplifting. Her niece thinks the woman needs to seek psychiatric help for kleptomania. Mason is brought in because a cache of valuable diamonds, left in the niece’s care, has suddenly vanished into thin air. No spoiler alerts. This is the kind of book you enjoy reading and then forget about a couple hours later, like all good pulp fiction.
Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell: Before he earned worldwide renown as the author of classics like “Animal Farm” and “1984,” George Orwell was an out-of-work drifter living on the skids in Europe’s two most famous cities. This was during the early 1930s, when jobs were hard to come by. The book, published in 1933, provides a fascinating look into a world where you didn’t know where your next meal would come from, and you often didn’t have a place to sleep at night. When Orwell couldn’t find work, he had to scrounge for food. There were stretches when he might have nothing more to eat than a couple slices of bread a day, provided free by churches. The dirty little secret here is Orwell’s anti-Semitism. He has many derogatory things to say about Jews. It’s a reminder of how much anti-Semitism coursed through Europe at the time, which reached its tragic conclusion with the Holocaust.
Voodoo Hideaway, Vance Cariaga. I have read this book several times, and each time IT JUST GETS BETTER AND BETTER. In this 2021 novel, the author reinvents the crime fiction genre, bringing an extra dimension to a noirish tale of a homeless man who stumbles through a mysterious door one night and finds himself caught up in a deadly money scheme between a brilliant scientist, a wicked nightclub manager, a beautiful jazz singer, and a mobster on the lam. The reader is taken on a mad journey through a world of greed, deception, revenge and vanity, with plenty of blind alleys, sudden twists and dark humor along the way. Just when you think you’ve got the story figured out, it tosses you a curveball.
Here’s how to order it: